I was going to start this post by saying that MoMA in New York is my second-favorite art museum in the world. But, as I started to write, it no longer seemed right to rank art museums because, like doggos, they’re all the absolute best. Any place that makes art something to be enjoyed, appreciated, and understood is a winner in my book.1
MoMA is a world-class museum because of its size and its collection, of course, but I think it’s special because of the curators’ commitment to diversity. The masterworks are on display, as you’d expect, but so are many works by lesser-known artists. I don’t recall learning about many female or minority artists when I was in school, so I pay special attention to them today at museums.
MoMA galleries are chronological. You can see how contemporaries responded to the themes of the day and responded to each others’ art. Most art museums are organized this way; the most notable exception is the Tate Modern, which takes a thematic approach.2
Here are some highlights from our trip to MoMA last weekend: First, here’s Barnett Newman’s “Broken Obelisk,” which sits in the Sculpture Garden.
I have mixed thoughts about Amanda Williams’ “Embodied Sensations,” which purports to show how COVID-19 has upended our lives by displaying furniture and fixtures that had to be removed from MoMA spaces to promote social distancing. Being a cynic, I can’t help but think that this was simply a way to avoid buying a storage unit.
The Complimentary Spouse enjoys a panel of Monet’s Water Lilies, which gets its own room.3
I had to wait a minute or two to get a somewhat unobstructed view of Van Gogh’s Starry Night. This one attracts a crowd, as you can imagine.
Keith Haring’s dynamic “Untitled” is one of my favorite works, covering three walls at MoMA. The primitive black and white drawing style — notice that there’s not even any variation of width in the lines — disguises a lot of action and symbolism.
Jeff Koons’ “Pink Panther” has to be experienced in 3-D. When someone asks you “where can I see a sculpture of a cartoon character hugging Jayne Mansfield,” you can now respond “the second floor of MoMA, of course.” You’ll notice the extraordinary width of “Untitled” in the background.
Jack Witten’s “Atopolis: For Édouard Glissant” is an interesting study in style and technique. At some distances, it seems to have a structure — I think it looks something like an aerial view of a city. At other distances, it loses this form and is harder to describe.
If all goes according to plan, our next major art museum visit will be to the Tate Modern in London. However, a lot of things aren’t going according to plan these days, thanks to COVID.
1 Architect Mies van der Rohe said an art museum should be where “The barrier between the artwork and the living community is erased.”
2 I prefer the thematic approach. Art tells a much more compelling story when it’s not locked to a timeline. While I truly enjoy and appreciate MoMA, sometimes I feel like it’s a passive experience. The Tate Modern is a welcome challenge, with juxtapositions that encourage critical analysis and creative thinking.4
3 You might be wondering why Britt and I are wearing AirPods in these photos. No, we’re not jamming out to Freedom Rock. MoMA has an excellent collection of audio guides that you can pull up on your phone. Bring your headphones when you visit.
4 Yeah, well now I guess you can figure out which art museum I was going to rank No. 1. There goes my promise not to rank art museums.