When the Met Breuer, named after its famous architect Marcel Breuer, opened in March, it promised to be the Met’s hip younger sibling — a response to the growing hunger for contemporary art. However, its maiden exhibition, Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible, was greeted with a lukewarm response. Comparisons were drawn to the space’s former resident, the Whitney, and other contemporary art museums like MoMa and LACMA. I’m probably less discerning than an art critic, but I found Unfinished to be a fun reshuffling of the deck.
There’s something compelling about the idea of unfinished business: it’s a universal concept we can all relate to. We’re likely to have unfinished projects, unfinished relationships, or unfinished dreams ourselves. At the Met Breuer the artwork on display could quite literally be unfinished in the sense of being incomplete, unfinished as a purposeful stylistic decision, or dealing with unfinished concepts like death and decay. Some pieces are question marks: did the artists mean to leave them the way they were? Some other pieces were left unfinished to create a more interactive experience by having the viewer figuratively finish the piece.
We’re fiercely private people, Lynn and I. And we’re aware — lest you think the irony went unnoticed — that the notion seems laughably conceited coming from bloggers. But that doesn’t make it any less true.
We struggle, regularly, with the ever more blurred and increasingly subtle distinction between the public and private aspects of our lives. Time and time again, we’ve drawn a line in the sand, erased it, moved it forward and back again, in seemingly endless repetition. For most people, this isn’t even an issue. Or, more accurately, it’s not even a consideration. For most people, this line we’ve agonized over, drawn out as some rudimentary, theoretical principle, is a testament to the futility of resisting a new and inevitable reality: there is no line. They believe ours to be a fool’s errand. From their perspective, we might as well have drawn our line near the ocean’s edge at low tide.
So it was with an ambivalent spirit that we recently visited the ICP Museum to experience Public, Private, Secret, an exhibit that was equal parts unsettling and fascinating. It explores “the concept of privacy in today’s society and studies how contemporary self-identity is tied to public visibility” and showcases the work of such talented artists as Zach Blas, Martine Syms, Natalie Bookchin, Cindy Sherman (whom we’ve written about previously in this post here), Nan Goldin, and Andy Warhol. It also includes live-streams of images and videos from myriad social media sources compiled by Mark Ghuneim and ICP’s New Media Narratives students.
I have a confession to make: I am terrible at being a girl. I’m tragically unromantic, I’m disastrously undomestic, and I’m really not much of a nurturer. I pluck my eyebrows only when they’re one step away from becoming a unibrow, and I mostly sport unpainted, barely trimmed nails. But I love fashion. (I spoke a little about my fashion obsession in this post.) When I find myself in the presence of pretty, pretty clothes, it’s the only time I feel 100% like a girl. So I was thoroughly excited to finally make my way to the Manus X Machina exhibition at the Met to indulge my oft-neglected girly side.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute originated in 1937 and has since evolved, with the help of some of the biggest names in fashion, into a respected destination for fans of fashion design and history. It’s near-impossible not to anticipate the annual Gala Benefit that takes place each May, as it draws celebrities of every ilk. In a true visual feast, titans of film, fashion, music and business show up in fantastical outfits tied to the upcoming thematic exhibition.
“There were no utensils in medieval times, hence there are no utensils at Medieval Times. Would you like a refill on that Pepsi?”
“There were no utensils but there was Pepsi?”
– Cable Guy, 1996
Everyone’s a fan of Arthurian legend, whether you fell in love with The Sword in the Stone as a child, or with Monty Python and the Holy Grail as an adult. Your favorite Arthur might be Sean Connery, while your favorite Guinevere might be Ava Gardner. You might’ve liked Steinbeck’s traditional retelling, or Mark Twain’s humorous alternative history version. There’s just something about the warrior king, the code of chivalry, the mysticism, drama and romance of the time that intoxicates. And it’s those same magical elements you’ll find at The Cloisters. (No dinner and jousting though, sorry.)
With income inequality becoming one of the defining challenges of our time, it’s not difficult to understand the increasing democratization of art. In a refusal to cede control to the art world hierarchy, street artists delivered their message wherever they could — public walls and subway cars became means of expression. It’s unclear when graffiti became mainstream, but there’s no question that it has. Christina Aguilera bought a Banksy original for £25,000 in 2006. The Tate Modern in London invited some artists to do outdoor pieces in 2008, and the Museum of Contemporary Arts in Los Angeles ran an “Art in the Streets” exhibition which was billed as “the first major U.S. museum survey of graffiti and street art” in 2011. A majority of street artists never leave their urban canvas, but Chris Ellis, also known as Daze, is one of the few artists who has managed to successfully transition his work into museums and galleries.
Somewhere in Tom Sachs’ overdeveloped imagination, the cold, logical utilitarianism of engineering confronted the intuitive, whimsical nature of art and something unexpected — a symbiosis — developed between them.
Tom Sachs is an artist and a sculptor, as well as a member of the loosely-defined, collaborative, four-person-collective known provocatively as Satan Ceramics. He recently stepped out on his own for a solo exhibit, appropriating the entire glass entryway of the Brooklyn Museum’s Rubin Pavilion and organically transforming it into an immersive sound system experience. He incorporated “found objects” (such as plywood, batteries, duct tape, and foam), audio components, and his hallmark text and symbols (such as the word Satan and the acronym NASA) into multiple variations on the Boombox, ranging in size and complexity. The functional art pieces shape the space of the exhibit holistically, as is his trademark style.
Before the rise of DC and Marvel superhero blockbusters, with their visual effects extravaganzas, there was the original source material — the under-appreciated, often ridiculed comic books and graphic novels — from which their inspirations were drawn. In fact, prior to bellwether films such as The Dark Knight, Sin City, The Avengers and The Walking Dead, the only examples of this broad medium to garner even a modicum of respect were the iconoclastic satire of MAD Magazine and The New Yorker. And more than any other, the cartoons of The New Yorker epitomized the astonishing breadth of this art form, pushing its boundaries and demonstrating its wealth of profundities.
I’d be hard pressed to name a favorite museum in New York City — it would be like naming a favorite child (if you have over a hundred of them). But I can assure you that the Frick Collection would be hovering near the top of the list. It’s such an intimate and warm space, and although many other residences have been converted into museums or galleries, this one still feels like a home.
First, a little bit of history: the museum is named for Henry Clay Frick, a Pittsburgh industrialist who came into his fortune during the Gilded Age from his endeavors in coke and steel (he partnered with the likes of Andrew Carnegie and J.P. Morgan). Frick used his means to accumulate art, and when he moved to New York in 1905, a lot of it came with him. He eventually built his home where the Frick Collection currently stands on East 70th St with the intent of turning it into a museum upon his death.
A friend of mine was visiting from London years ago, and had brought with her a big box of chocolates she’d picked up on a trip to Belgium. The group of us chatted as we sampled from it, when someone exclaimed, “I can only have one piece, it’s so rich!” Having probably devoured eight pieces by that point, I’ll admit that the notion of having too much of a good thing eluded me in that moment.
My unnatural capacity to consume desserts aside, I find that the law of diminishing returns tends to hold true in most other areas of life, and a self-imposed threshold can do wonders in increasing one’s enjoyment. For me, this definitely applies to art. While it’s easy to lose oneself in a great museum or gallery for hours, I’ve discovered that after a certain amount of time has passed, or after I’ve viewed a certain number of pieces, my ability to truly appreciate additional works decreases. The Rubin Museum has a unique approach to this problem.
The Rubin Museum features art from the Himalayas, India and neighboring regions, but they’ve always promoted a more immersive experience, encouraging visitors to engage in more than just walking through the galleries. They regularly offer meditation and yoga sessions, talks and a variety of other programs to “inspire visitors to make connections between contemporary life and the art and ideas”.