Tuesday, January 12, 2010

MoMA: Bauhaus, Orozco and Burton

I went back and, as predicted by the MoMA guards and information desk staff, it was indeed less crowded. It’s now more like a sale at Bloomingdales rather than rush hour on the Lex. In other words, like it’s been since the Taniguchi renovation. Aside from a comprehensive and enlightening Bauhaus exhibition (through January 25th), I don’t think it’s worth fighting even these thinner crowds.

Joseph Albers, Set of Stacking Tables, c.1927

It’s surprising that MoMA hasn’t had a survey of the Bauhaus since 1938 because MoMA’s aesthetic has been so Bauhaus. But it may have been worth the wait. One of the best things about this show is that Barry Bergdoll and Leah Dickerman, the curators, included many lesser known artists, and, as a result, you can see how communal the aesthetic was, but also how diverse. In fact there’s very little of the severe, minimal, mechanical sensibility that I associated with the school. Maybe we have so adopted the Bauhaus sensibility that now some of the work looks downright cozy.

Btw, the Modern has organized an all day Bauhaus symposium on January 22nd. Participants include the curators and a half a dozen major scholars. Tickets are only $5 to $12 and you can reserve them on line here.

Mexican, more accurately, International, art star Gabriel Orozco’s retrospective (until March 1st) is insightful for other reasons. Some artists (e.g.Wallace Berman) are helped by retrospectives, and others look thin and lame. Orozco (no relation to José Clemente Orozco) unfortunately is the latter. The hit or miss quality of his art works better in galleries than a museum -- maybe because less is expected of it. He does hit sometimes though. His La DS, 1993, a Citroen with its middle third removed and re-assembled, is one strange and beautiful sculpture -- a piece Orozco’s reputation has been coasting on for some time now.

Gabriel Orozco, La DS, 1993 (modified Citroen)

Finally, there’s the wildly popular Tim Burton show (through April 26th).

Tim Burton, Untitled (Boy series), 1980-90

The average person sees hundreds, maybe thousands, of movies and TV shows a year. They care about them, discuss them, and have built up a sophisticated knowledge that far exceeds anything in the other arts. Likewise, movie-making attracts some of the brightest, most ambitious and creative people. So it’s not surprising that movies are the reigning medium of our time. And Tim Burton is one of the most creative and best movie-makers around. He is wildly inventive and incredibly prolific.

So why did I not like the show? I don’t think it’s because of the popularity itself -- I love Picasso, Matisse and Van Gogh shows -- or that it is accessible to the masses -- I liked the Guggenheim motorcycle show. I’ll admit to being a snob, but I really don’t think that’s it, or at least all of it. I think I’m put off by the simple-minded, often cute, illustrational quality of the work. There’s a lot of work like that around now, and I’m put off by that too, but it’s usually tougher and more personal than Burton’s work. There’s something manipulative and contrived about Burton’s work This might work in movies, but it’s very suspect when it comes to the visual arts.

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