Column: MoMA mia! MAN BAFFLED BY MODERN ARTAugust 29, 2013
By JASON RECKER
There we were, standing in front of a pile of fabric. It was piled and dyed and arranged on the floor with the idea that it resembled a thigh-high cheeseburger. Bun, meat, cheese, ketchup, tomato, lettuce, bun.
I am all about entrees so large I can fit inside them.
But we were in the Museum of Modern Art.
And a giant sandwich made of blankets wasn’t exactly what I was hoping for.
The place sounded interesting, and most everything in Manhattan, especially for a small-town sports-drunk baboon who cultivates cultural depth by watching “Bizarre Foods America,” is intriguing on some level.
People told us not to miss MoMA. Try it, try it, it’s cool, promise, go see it, it’s close to your hotel, you should check it out, you’ll have fun, it’s one of those New York things to do so don’t skip it, the people urged.
I am mad at those people.
Never have I felt so lost. It was as if I was a caveman dropped into the batter’s box at a baseball game and told to get a hit then manage the team. Talk about being thrown a curveball.
I know nothing about art, except that I am creative enough to help my children make birthday cards from construction paper, tongue depressors, pipe cleaners, cotton balls and blobs of glue the size of a dinner plate. I am not so shallow as to merely bypass work by Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh, Jasper Johns, Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol, which is to say I have at least heard of them. I am certainly shallow enough to think that some of me and my daughters’ collaborations — randomly layered, wildly colored, illegibly scribbled and ickily sticky as they may be — are more deserving of applause.
I guess it’s all about who did it?
Picasso could have painted half a game of tic-tac-toe on the bottom of a flip-flop and critics would have been delirious over his pure genius.
At MoMA, so-called visionaries are praised for less.
At the top of one blank, white wall were large black letters: A WALL PITTED BY A SINGLE AIR RIFLE SHOT. Naturally, I looked for a hole. Then I read the nearby placard that explained that there was no hole. Uh. OK. Right...
The guy who did it is considered a “conceptual artist.” I don’t know what that means. But if I write a Page One headline in tomorrow’s Herald and leave the rest of the page blank, I, too, can be a conceptual artist. We all can be. Kids, answer neither true nor false on the test. Adults, hand in an empty W-2. Tell the IRS it’s art. And it’s worth millions.
It’s clear that art has no rules. Therein lies the beauty, presumptuous people will tell me. I will ignore them.
Because what is artistic about video footage of a naked man on a couch passing a large ball to a naked woman sitting next to him? MoMA has that. All of the parts. I mean all of them. Over and over, the ball traveled from unclothed crotch to bare chest.
I took a poetry class in college from which I gleaned that poems — like a loop of awkward, mystifying mild pornography — push my brain in directions it cannot be bent. I aced the college class by penning the strangest, most nonsensical poems I could possibly think of. I wrote about shampoo, a roommate’s girlfriend and tractors, things that shared no connection outside of earning me an A from some professor who mistook me as introspective.
If I were so deep, I might have grasped the greatness of what I suppose was sculpture. In one MoMA room, a collection of insulation lay on the floor. It looked like a construction project gone bad. In another exhibit, a gnawed foam cup idled beside a dingy mattress and box springs. It could have been extricated from a vacated apartment.
“What the hell is that?” I asked. “Seriously.”
Nobody answered. Interaction isn’t encouraged at MoMA.
One member of our four-person group already had been cautioned by a defensive tackle wearing Secret Service attire to step away from one exhibit. My friend unknowingly had crossed a line on the floor that was, to art connoisseurs, an obvious barrier to separate uneducated visitors from precious creativity. For all he knew, the line on the floor was art itself. LINE ON A FLOOR PROTECTED BY A LARGE MAN.
We asked for no clarification about the rules. Or the art.
Happily unsophisticated, we bailed, wishing we’d spent those 45 minutes looking for another ice cream shop. Or just sitting in our hotel room. Nude. Passing a large ball back and forth.
If art is subjective, I’d rather not be subjected to it again.
Jason Recker is the enterprise editor at The Herald. In New York, he ate a milkshake with a doughnut inside. That’s the kind of art he likes. His email address is email@example.com.
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