A Day At The Museum Of Modern Art

I spent all day Saturday, November 22nd 2008, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. I’ve been to MoMA once before on April 30th, 2005. I was just reviewing an old blog post about that trip. This bus trip to New York City was sponsored by the Pennsylvania College of Technology Alumni Association.

It takes four hours to drive to New York City from Williamsport so I brought along a paperback book to read and my iTouch. Unfortunately the volume on my iTouch is incredibly low. I bought this iTouch in St. Thomas while on my cruise and I’ve since discovered that Apple built-in a volume cap for the foreign market of its iPod devices. There is nothing you can do about it unless you jailbreak it to remove the volume cap. The man sitting next to me also had an iTouch. He was probably wondering about the videos I was watching on my iTouch. I had copied some YouTube videos by this total freak onto my iTouch. I’m not even going to hint at what that is all about. By the way, you must convert YouTube’s FLV files to MOV files in order to get them into iTunes.

The paperback book I was reading was Strange Angels by Kathe Koja. Unfortunately this book is out of print but I was still able to buy a copy online from an Amazon used book seller. It conveniently arrived the day before this bus trip. Although this book is a horror novel, its premise is highly intriguing and quite relevant to my trip.

Strange Angels: Kathe Koja: Books

ISBN: 044021498X
ISBN-13: 9780440214984

Strange Angels is about a photographer going through a period of existential angst due to a lack of inspiration. He develops an obsession with the drawings of a schizophrenic patient being treated by his wife who is an art therapist. I’ve only read 70 pages so far but the reviews suggest this book is a serious exploration of the relationship between madness and creativity. It really should not be classified as a horror novel. I find this novel to be highly troubling because it is suggesting that there is something extremely compelling about the irrational. Maybe it really is a horror novel because its premise makes me very uneasy.

When I arrived at MoMA the first exhibit I saw was Van Gogh and the Colors of the Night,  an exhibit built entirely around his painting The Starry Night. Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night is definitely the most renowned painting in modern art. You practically have to make an appointment to see the original. There was a long line for the exhibit and you had to get a special yellow timed ticket to get in. I had a 10:30 AM appointment.

According to one online source:

Starry Night (oil on canvas) first and foremost is a reflection of the turbulent and torturous combination of manic ecstasy and melancholy that battled for control of Van Gogh’s mind.

Vincent van Gogh painted this while being treated at a sanitarium and committed suicide about a year later. It is ironic that the most highly valued painting in the world is a work of art closely associated with mental illness. I have to wonder if everyone who sees this painting really wants to vicariously experience the visionary ecstasy of  its creator in order to fill the void within themselves. This is precisely what the protagonist of Strange Angels sets out to do with morally sickening results.

Another artist mentioned in the novel is Francis Bacon. MoMA has two paintings by Francis Bacon on display including the Painting (1946). According to Wikipedia:

Bacon described the work as his most unconscious, the figurations forming without his intention.

It is not hard to see why the work of Francis Bacon would appeal to horror writers and artists. This painting features a carcass from the slaughterhouse and his other painting is of a man screaming. I bought a biography of Francis Bacon, Anatomy Of An Enigma by Michael Peppiatt but I have not read it so I cannot comment on this work although it appears he explored some dark corners of the psyche.

However, I have read a biography of Giorgio de Chirico, The Enigma Of Giorgio de Chirico by Margaret Crosland, and I do have something to say about his paintings. Unfortunately, MoMA does not have his The Disquieting Muses or The Seer but I did see The Song of Love and The Serenity of the Scholar. Giorgio de Chirico is credited with creating metaphysical art, which according to Wikipedia:

represented a visionary world which engaged most immediately with the unconscious mind, beyond physical reality, hence the name.

While gazing at The Serenity of the Scholar I thought about deserted city streets seen at twilight when long shadows stretch across empty spaces. There is a sense of serenity to be found in contemplating such a scene. It eliminates all social consciousness from the mind and allows you to regard being in itself, a mute existence devoid of the rational calculations of the social being. You feel free of all ambitions and the social construct of meanings which obscure the real significance of what is seen.

Other current MoMA exhibits I saw include; Looking at Music where I saw Laurie Anderson’s Self-Playing Violin playing by itself, Pipilotti Rist: Pour Your Body Out which was a psychedelic immersive environment. You can see videos about that on MoMA’s YouTube channel. There was also an extensive exhibition of Joan Miró paintings on the top floor.

I went shopping at the MoMA book store. They have a fantastic collection of books on modern art, design, and film. It is like a small library and you are allowed to read books before buying them. I bought the books Positif 50 Years: Selections From The French Film Journal and 100 European Horror Films. I had researched the books that might be available online and intended to buy the Positif book because it might introduce me to some great foreign films. I probably should not have bought the book on European horror films.  I regret not buying a book on modern Chinese design which could have been more interesting. No doubt there was some really fantastic book there but I had no way of guessing the contents.

I also had lunch and dinner at the MoMA cafes. I had a shrimp and salmon salad with just one giant shrimp for lunch and a chicken panini for dinner.

One of the paintings that caught my eye was Janet Sobel’s Milky Way. I’m not sure if I had ever seen that painting before. It resembles a Jackson Pollock drip painting but it was much more colorful.

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