The New MoMA aspires to reconstruct art history through the lens of a revolutionary political agenda, but in the process sacrifices both art and justice.
MoMA, along with the art world in general, has by hyjacked by a revolutionary political movement. The new MoMA happily subordinates art to postmodernist philosophy and social justice, which, while seeming progressive on the face of it, is more than a bit moldy, and does NOT occupy the higher ethical ground. If we feel that social justice is more important than art, and that social issues are so urgent that the museum must prioritize them above art in terms of curation and underlying narratives, than the least we can do is insure the model of justice we are using is truly just. It should apply universal principles that are fair to everyone, now, and not apply new hierarchies of who matters based on biology or geography, etc. Let’s not automatically grant them the moral underhand if they don’t really deserve it.
[Just to jump ahead a bit, social justice still fixes identity to biology, and thus categorizes people by biology (even assigning deleterious traits to people based on it), rather than understanding humans as their immaterial minds, consciousness, and their decisions, first and foremost. Defining people by race and gender is history, and not the way forward, even if it is applied in the name of ostensible justice for underprivileged, minority, or any group that is discriminated against. Biological determinism is backwards, and if you fully appreciate that our minds are infinitely more important than our bodies, you don’t judge people by biology to begin with.]
Regrettably, I have to address political correctness here, simply because it’s taken over the museum as a belief system. Sorry folks, it is to morality and justice what a crash diet is to a diet that can sustain life: it does not seek balance or to be sustainable, but rather is a drastic attempt at overcompensation (and with more than a sprinkling of retribution). It’s a short-term mindset, riddled with the same symptoms it most urgently wants to relieve, but institutionalized as a permanent framework. It would be better, to continue my analogy, to skip the crash diet altogether and get on the ideal diet immediately: no discrimination; no favoritism; define people as invisible minds, and not material bodies; judge the artist by the art, and not the other way around; make politics subordinate to art, as a subject of art, and don’t make art a mere tool of politics, etc.
“Not only is the museum growing, it is changing its relationship to the art, no longer insisting on a single grand narrative, no longer teaching, but simply opening itself up to exploration and discovery.” ~ Philip Kennicott, The Washington Post.
The great tragedy and hypocrisy of postmodernism — which sought to reveal all narratives as fiction — is that it has itself become a sacrosanct narrative and incontestable truth. Worse than that, Jim, it doesn’t even know it, in the same way younger generations can’t make sense of the concept of selling out. Postmodernism and social justice tend to walk hand in hand — they share a disavowal and contempt for Western civilization — both assuming they aren’t finite worldviews that will eventually be recognized as having run their course, but believing they are portals to unadulterated reality. Note to armchair philosophers: every paradigm crumbles. We will eventually, inevitably wake up from wokeness, and evolve socially, unless we’ve already reached the end-game [I was fully indoctrinated into the current postmodernist/social justice agenda a quarter century ago in grad school, and had to think my way out of it in order to survive].
Social justice/political correctness/identity politics offers a comprehensive worldview and outlook on reality, and once one adopts it one tends to see everything according to its arguments and conclusions, including art. If you look at art history through this powerful, singular lens, great artists become pillars in a colonialist, patriarchal, oppressive, racist institution structured and propped up to preserve the status quo. The antidote becomes not to focus on the best new achievements in art, or how to determine what those are and how to appreciate them. Instead, we strive to to redress perceived social wrongs in and through art, by jettisoning prior ideas of art and art history, and imposing a social justice model that privileges art and artists that are seen as in opposition to the patriarchy, whiteness, racism, and so on. A rich and detailed understating of art is replaced by the agenda of a radical sociopolitical mindset. You know that this reductionist framework is firmly in place when great art becomes part of the problem, the creators the enemy, and a museum of modern art transforms into an anti-modern museum of art. While postmodernism and social justice make valid, broadening, and necessary amendments to art history, they don’t replace it — what should be an addendum to modernism or Western civilization should not replace it wholesale — and we need to update our ethical operating system.
The social justice/political correctness/identity politics paradigm is quite hostile to criticism, and assumes anyone who finds fault with it must be some sort of backwards deplorable. It is unimaginable that someone could oppose it from a more forward and ethical position, even if that is an eventual inevitability (or an inevitable eventuality). I believe it’s already happened. The new MoMA presents itself the forefront of progress in multiple fields, but, subscribing to a flawed, narrow, and decades-old worldview, it may have arrived on the scene moribund. The underlying rubric is appropriate for 90’s courses in academic, critical theory, but not as the guiding principle of the museum of modern art in 2019.
“The museum is not the place where we are going to give a lesson.” ~ Christophe Cherix, chief curator of drawings and prints
They are not, apparently, going to give a familiar sort of lesson in art history where one ism follows another, and so on, but they are definitely going to give us another lesson while slapping us with rulers. Had Faith Ringgold’s American People Series #20: Die been placed next to Picasso’s Guernica, it would have made some sort of sense, and we’d just be playing fast and loose with decades while adhering to a theme of senseless carnage. But the juxtaposition between Ringgold’s painting and Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon [see pic above] is fully intended to teach us a moral lesson. Have art history and its lessons been sidelined and replaced by identity politics and its lessons?
Surely it matters that Faith Ringgold is a black woman and that Picasso is probably the top name that comes up in quandaries about whether we can like the art while hating the artist (the implied answer, by the way, is no). If you’ve been in Plato’s cave for the last half century, Picasso was apparently a chauvinist on steroids, and that’s putting it nicely. In Ringgold’s case — an 89 year old black woman known for her narrative quilts — someone might ask the rhetorical opposite question “Can we dislike the art and love the artist” (the answer, again, is no). I’m not quite sure how to read the juxtaposition, but I can be confident it is to some degree rebuking Picasso, and intends to socially engineer my perspective. Picasso is commonly criticized for appropriating African art, such as masks, and most famously in Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. I should probably come away believing that Picasso was a sexist and racist, and women of color are at least as good of artists as this phallic totem in the Pantheon of art #fuckpicasso.
I shouldn’t need to say this because it is so painfully obvious, but if someone were to say that women of color were somehow less capable artistically than are white men, I’d take serious exception to that. This shouldn’t be a competition between tribalized identities, nor should we be rooting for this or that person based on tribal categorization. We should be neither elevating, celebrating, deriding, nor maligning people because of things they have no control over whatsoever, especially in one of the only areas where someone’s mind is actually manifest – art! And it’s not a refusal or disinclination to acknowledge the historical injustices and hardships certain groups have faced. Everyone’s life is a struggle — though certainly some have cards stacked in their favor and others get a recipe for failure — but it’s up the the artist to infuse what he or she has learned, or perceived, or imagined into her or his art. The proof is in the pudding, not in information about the cook that could fit on a note-card.
[Note that the row of Picasso paintings is sandwiched on the other end by a work by Louise Bourgeois]. I may judge Picasso retroactively on moral grounds, but I don’t judge his art that way. Just because I don’t like someone doesn’t mean I get to be a better artist than they are, just as it doesn’t mean I win in the boxing ring.
So, instead of getting an outmoded and eurocentric lesson in art history, we can be socially engineered to subscribe to a radical agenda (which has more grey hair than my beard). This is not seen as a problem when we consider that the purpose of art is generally accepted to be to advance a progressive social agenda and fight oppression. So, either the museum is using curation to teach me social lessons, or it’s using curation to teach me social lesson and assuming I’m too stupid to catch on.
“It’s a worldwide phenomenon that the old, linear history just doesn’t feel correct anymore…This is such a turning point in our history, and museum history, this last decade. Everyone across the board is thinking about things we’ve taken for granted for 50 years. That’s not something we decided. It just happened that this expansion project allowed us to do something that needed to be done anyway, given how history has evolved in recent years.” ~ Ann Temkin, the museum’s chief curator of painting and sculpture
I doubt history, or even conceptions of history, have changed much in recent years. Interpretations have, however, surely revised history. Take special note here that Ann Temkin is saying that MoMA has been completely reconfigured in accordance with a decade old perspective (I guess she only jumped on the bandwagon a decade ago). Even in her own mind that’s one generation revamping art history to suit its particular vision. That should be a cause for concern, as this would mean the new perspective has not stood the test of time, is likely of a revolutionary nature, and if the history of the last century taught us anything, revolutions tend to savor destroying history and starting fresh (perhaps at the year zero) with themselves at the helm, and in the spotlight.
[For the record, I don’t buy into the linear view of art history either, I just don’t think the postmodern/social justice paradigm is the best potential alternative. Of course I have no problem with showcasing the art of artists who have been neglected because of their DNA, culture, or geography. I’m all for it. At very least, it allows us to discover potentially rich new artworks.]
I have to, if I am honest, sit in the chair of reality for a second and ask myself a serious question. I may not like it. But here it is:
Does Faith Ringgold’s painting belong next to Picasso?
The answer must be “yes”, or it wouldn’t be there. Here’s a possible reason from Murray Whyte of the Boston Globe.
Ringgold shifts the conversation: From the mechanics of painting to the stories it tells, from form to content. Modern art was a formal movement, roughly replacing old techniques and perspectives with the shock of the new. I couldn’t help but think how much energy has been spent analyzing Picasso’s formal innovations in “Demoiselles” at the expense of its content (it depicts prostitutes in Barcelona and, to my eye, not sympathetically). Ringgold reminds us that formal concerns alone do not a revolution make, and that stories matter — they matter a lot. If this room accomplishes nothing more than that, it wins.
Note here that the juxtaposition is valid if it teaches us an idea, while the museum is no longer teaching. Whyte’s argument — that the content of Demoiselles has been neglected in favor of the shock of the new — is more plausible if one has never taken an art history class or read art history. Why not look up what Robert Hughes had to say in his The Shock of the New:
In the final painting, however, only the nudes are left. Their formal aspect was a favourite of 1890s’ painting, memorably captured by Degas and Toulouse-Lautrec; it is the parade, the moment when the prostitutes of the house display themselves to the client and he picks one. By leaving out the client, Picasso turns viewer into voyeur; the stares of the five girls are concentrated on whoever is looking at the painting. And by putting the viewer in the client’s sofa, Picasso transmits, with overwhelming force, the sexual anxiety which is the real subject of Les Demoiselles. The gaze of the women is interrogatory, or indifferent, or as remote as stone (the three faces on the left were, in fact, derived from archaic Iberian stone heads that Picasso had seen in the Louvre). Nothing about their expressions could be construed as welcoming, let alone coquettish. They are more like judges than houris. And so Les Demoiselles announces one of the recurrent subthemes of Picasso’s art: a fear, amounting to holy terror, of women. This fear was the psychic reality behind the image of Picasso the walking scrotum, the inexhaustible old stud of the Côte d’Azur, that was so devoutly cultivated by the press and his court from 1945 on.
Meanwhile back in reality not only had art criticism analyzed the content of Demoiselles, it had been quite critical of Picasso’s relation to the subjects as well. Obviously, nobody is arguing that Faith Ringgold made the same sort of contributions to art history that Picasso did, but, we are completely disregarding that old linear history of art. Gotta’ keep that in mind. Art history is vanquished from the art museum. We have a new, stylish, postmodern pastiche of history, in which any painting of any era can be placed next to another in order to achieve a new meaning for both! Art and art history are decided by the viewer (though the witness is led by the curator in lockstep). Is Ringgold’s art of the same quality as Picasso’s? Does that even matter in the new decades old paradigm? If we believe it’s true, than it’s true, because there’s no objective reality, and we want to believe it’s true. Voila! I’ll have a latte. I like her work, but putting her next to Picasso is a big move. Let’s not pretend we are just brushing away notions of art history: we are rewriting it according to our own narrow and subjective beliefs and preferences.
We have a similar issue with a painting by Indian painter Vasudeo S. Gaitonde hanging next to a Mark Rothko. I wonder what the rationale could be? What is the museum telling me? Ah, it is correcting art history which previously excluded Gaitonde’s paintings because he’s Indian, when in actuality, he’s as good as Rothko, if not better.
And, y’know, that could be true, except, when I know that the underlying reason for putting the painting there was, in a word, inclusion, I would generally assume, but not say in good company, that he wasn’t as good.
We can now finally come to understand that Méret Oppenheim’s fur-lined cup is the formerly, unjustly disqualified, “quintessential” object of Surrealism proper:
Why? Let me put on my thinking fedora. Because Méret is a woman?! Hot damn, another pellet has materialized on the floor of my cage.
In the realm of Surrealism, I recently rediscovered Kay Sage, incidentally, who was the wife of Yves Tanguy (my favorite artist when I was 18). She worked in a similar style to Yves, but more geometric and with more accurate perspective. Check it out:
I didn’t even know Tanguy’s wife painted when he was my fav artist. I would have loved to have had a book of her art back then (or now). She’s got mad skills. I’m completely in favor of rewriting books on Surrealism to feature her alongside Yves (though not to replace him wholesale). Some days I prefer Kay’s art, and other days I prefer that of Yves, just as some days I’d rather listen to Gentle Giant, and other I’d prefer Francis Bebey. Yes, by all means, include artists who are or were being wrongly or stupidly or for whatever reason ignored or sidelined. Don’t pat yourself on the back for practicing incontestable discrimination in order to privilege yourself and the group or groups you tribalistically assign yourself to. Tribalism can’t be the solution to tribalism.
A gallery called “Idea Art,” which gathers up early Minimalism and Conceptualism, puts four videos from the early days of Feminist art at its core. ~ Murray Whyte.
Because they are women?! Another pellet!
So here comes the corrective: African-American artists are here in force; women, a small slice of any museum’s collection, are omnipresent. The tether between the United States and France — Modernism’s superhighway, at the exclusion of most everything else — has been split into a web of global byways, examining modernity’s upheavals from multiple points on the map. ~ Murray Whyte.
C’mon, this is too transparent. Let me explain what’s wrong with this, if you can’t figure it out. Of course, I want every individual to have a fair shot at being represented in the museum’s collection, regardless of who they are. I also favor a rich variety of art and artists. But here the goal is to create a certain representation of people based on groups they are assigned to, and those groups are largely based on biology. We are determining whether someone deserves to be shown at MoMA based on something completely outside of their control, which is their DNA at birth.
The museum is obviously trying to redress historical wrongdoing, and then some, but does it by masking the symptoms while retaining and spreading the underlying disease of essentialism and biological determinism. The great evil of racism, sexism, homophobia, and the rest, is that the individual is judged unfairly — discriminated against, sidelined, punished, etc. — based on his or her physiognomy or group classification. You can’t maintain classifying people by body and group, insist on it, just switch which groups are in favor, and think you are fixing the fundamental problem. We just see people who are in power privileging themselves, which is no surprise, because power corrupts regardless of the DNA or group affiliation of the people in power. If we want real social justice and we really value people’s individual identities, we are going to have to drop our labels, convenient categorizations, and implicit hierarchies.
Beyond all that ass-backwards thinking (which is the basis of racial profiling), the curators have sought not equal representation of artists by groups, but deliberately and radically skewed representation, so that the majority of people will now occupy a minority of wall space. If fairness and justice were the goal, we might see groups of people represented in rough parallel to their population, in which case African American artists would constitute roughly 15 percent of the artists (they are roughly 15% of the US population), rather than being present “in force”. Women would be roughly 50%, and not “omnipresent”. When people are categorized and placed in a hierarchy of worth based on biology, this should be a giant, vigorously waving, red flag.
Here’s my simple idea: fairness and justice NOW for everyone. No double-standards, hypocrisy, overcompensation, reveling in righteous discrimination, smug condescension, scapegoating, and fighting historical fire with very present napalm. Who can really object to universally fair principles applied now? Instead we want to implement patently unfair ones, and this can’t possibly not precipitate a backlash.
When people grant themselves the power to discriminate and call it virtuous, that’s neither ethical nor progress. It’s someone who didn’t lose an eye taking an eye from someone who didn’t take one in the first place. The cycle will just perpetuate itself, because the underlying mindset is being supercharged. A grab for power is anything but justice.
Not only has the quality of art been sacrificed — as it is anytime preference is given to anything other than artistic achievement — the story of art itself has been replaced with a revolutionary social agenda, and people are too afraid of that agenda to make a peep, which is another sure sign the agenda is corrupted.
Like it or not, whether you’re pumping your fist in the air or sitting on your hands, MoMA has subscribed to a postmodern and social justice narrative, hook, line, sinker, and worm. If the history of modern art is no longer about a succession of isms, with the baton being passed from France to the US, what is it about? That could get really thick, and for me the first thing we’d have to do in order to work on that is to remove religion and politics as possible overriding contexts. Sorry, we’re not getting through the starting gate. We’ve locked ourselves into seeing art only through the lens of identity politics, cadre!
And the problem here is just going from one subtle and arguable extreme to another obvious and undebatable extreme: if MoMA formerly favored white male artists and a eurocentric tradition, it will now have a marked preference for non-white-males, non-Westerners, and a non-linear history, etc. Rather than correcting the shortcomings of modernism, we embrace its polar opposite as flawless. It is worth noticing that the Museum of Modern Art is now rabidly anti-modernism. This is the same dire mistake postmodernism makes. Rather than build on modernism, fix it’s flaws, and be an addendum to it, we seek to overthrow it entirely with a radical new (political) worldview. And as I mentioned in the beginning, while they will say they’ve abandoned all narratives, and aren’t presuming to instruct us, this is just an inability to see one’s own worldview as a finite projection upon reality. There is definitely a narrative, and they are unquestionably pushing it on us.
“We feel that many, many regions that once seemed peripheral don’t seem that way any more, they seem central,” MoMA chief curator Ann Temkin told Artnet News in regards to the new expansion. “Figures who once seemed secondary now seem primary.” ~ Anna Purna Kambhampaty, writing for TIME.
Right, people who were presumed to have been neglected are now not on the same plane, but “primary”. Does that not set off any bells?
Let me go ahead and belabor the obvious. Preference is being given to art created by certain people not because of the quality of art, nor even its place in art history (which has propped up many a lemon in the past), but because of WHO the artist is. That is, again, precisely the problem that we were ostensibly trying to correct. However, two wrongs make a righteous right, I guess. The chief curator of MoMa can assert that primacy is given to certain “regions” without even realizing how atrocious such a notion is. The idea is to level the playing field, not to make it completely lopsided at a new and unfair angle.
Does an upcoming, long-term, site-specific contemporary artwork by Yoko Ono really represent the best art humankind has to offer, or is it because — stop to slap my forehead — Yoko is a Japanese woman? Where’s my pellet? Oh, there we go. For a second I thought they’d advanced us to operant conditioning.
Have a look at the long-term, site-specific contribution of Yoko Ono. Is anyone going to be honest? I think her and John did the “Give peace a chance thing” a long time ago. I think I need only spend 5 seconds in this room to get the art. Is text art still supposed to be radical? No, I’m not a part of the racist wingnuts who hated Yoko because John Lennon dated a non-white — my girlfriend is Asian — but I didn’t stick my brain in a blender, either. This work is thin, thin gruel. This is what we get when we pick art becasue of politics and who the artist is rather than because the art itself is cool. There was a meme that said, “Give War a Chance” that was at least funny. This is just so much blue frosting on milquetoast. And it’s time to stop virtue-signalling by pretending to be enthusiastic about also-ran, derivative, cringe-worthy art, because it’s not virtuous in the first place.
“The new Marie-Josée and Henry Kravis Studio will reach back out to the museum’s progressive roots, as a new space that will “feature live programming and performances that react to, question, and challenge histories of modern art and the current cultural moment.” ~ Ann Temkin, Chief Currator of MoMA.
When she says “progressive” she means a liberal agenda, even a far left one (after all, art prides itself of being “radical”). It’s an interesting assumption that art necessarily is on one side of the political spectrum. We can guess what sorts of histories they will question, and what issues are in the current cultural moment.
Consier this very sensible-seeming statement from good ole crusty, Peter Schjeldahl of The New Yorker:
“Enhanced representations of art by women, African-Americans, Africans, Latin-Americans, and Asians can feel tentative, pitched between self-evident justice and noblesse oblige. But such efforts are important and must continue. We will have a diverse cosmopolitan culture or none worth bothering about.” ~ Peter Schjeldahl
He subscribes to the agenda, and while I’d mostly agree to what he says, I don’t think it’s that simple. It’s tough, but the better argument is to not EXCLUDE anyone because of who they are, as opposed to including them because of who they are. As regards the second part, would we then say that Tibetan culture was not worth bothering about because it isn’t cosmopolitan? We absolutely wouldn’t say that. Personally, I like a smörgåsbord of people and cultures, and I’m an expat living in Asia, but, I wouldn’t argue at all that more singular cultures are inferior. The New Yorker’s critic believes the museum needs to compromise its collection if necessary in order to achieve inclusivity. Even in his better scenario, what does “self-evident justice” have to do with artistic achievement? He is acknowledging that the museum is serving a political agenda, and establishing that he wholeheartedly agrees with that agenda (in which case it is unecessary for the New Yorker to be more representative by replacing a certain white male critic, I guess). The art museum must serve the greater moral purpose!
One of the chief objectives of the restoration, according to Jan Postma, the museum’s chief financial officer, was to
“better connect the museum to the people and streets of New York City.”
A quick internet search reveals that Donald Trump received 36.52% of the vote in New York. We can be fairly certain Jan Postma doesn’t have those people in mind. No, I didn’t vote for Trump. I was strongly for Bernie Sanders, and because of his policies, not his testes. My point is that we don’t actually connect with more of the people on the street by promoting a one-sided paradigm.
I wonder how many of the people responsible for the new face of MoMA voted for Trump [my guess is zero]. You might be happy with that, but how about if it were reversed? I remember being in a distinct minority when I opposed “Operation Iraqi Freedom”. Even the New Yorker clammed up after the general readership went ape-shit-ballistic over Susan Sontag saying, “Let’s mourn together; but let’s not be stupid together”. That line had me laughing out loud, uh, literally (goddamnit I can’t even use any of those words anymore without them being figurative!). On reflection most people now agree with me and Susan, my point being that we wouldn’t want the accepted morality in New York at the time to have retooled art museums and art history? Would we have wanted Rudy Giuliani to have a say-so in what art was displayed? If you would hate the rules if someone else was in charge, than you might want to reconsider those rules. I ask you, should art and art history be determined by politics and morality?
I’ve long noticed that people who place politics above art, and feel that art is most important when it takes a political stance, absolutely reject art that takes the incorrect stance. At what point in the history of art do we most care what the artists’ politics were? Off the top of my head, prior to the latter half of the 19th century, I couldn’t give a hoot what artists’ politics were. It could be because I don’t even really know what they were, or more likely forgot [I’ve had lots of art history courses, but the political parts were my coma time]. And with more recent art I am aware of the politics, but could only give a flying crap to the degree they are incorporated into otherwise successful art. As I like to say, the best art succeeds irrespective of its politics. I am a fan of Kerry James Marshall’s paintings because they are solid, and the quality supports his content. I don’t love them because of who he is or what they are about, though I certainly appreciate all of that. His art makes a case for his politics, not the other way around, folks.
Same goes for Mark Bradford. When I discovered his paintings, I didn’t even know he was black. I saw obviously excellent abstract works. If it were up to me I’d include Bradford, Marshall, Kay Sage, and possibly Faith Ringgold, too. The difference would be that it wouldn’t be because of their race, but because of their artistic achievement.
There’s a show on by Betya Saar, but I am more familiar with her daughter, Allison Saar, who’s work actually had a profound influence on me when I was an undergraduate.
I know, I know, I”m not supposed to be able to empathize with the black experience — we all learned that lesson with the righteous persecution of Dana Schutz for daring to address historical white supremacy in her portrait of Emmett Till — but when I was in my early 20’s, and finding a lot of contemporary art just too dry for my tastes, the expressionistic power and warm emotion of this work really appealed to me. It was one of the very few works I genuinely liked. It was, in a word, human. You can see the influence in the sculptures I produced as an undergrad, below [which, may, incidentally, now be in landfill]:
I have nothing against women’s art, black art, or art from other cultures, and never did. I’d definitely be up for an Alisan Saar show, and I’ve also grown to like Dana Schutz who I discovered because of the misguided attempts to destroy her work and her career. But I don’t think a survey of modern/contemporary art is complete without people like Alex Grey or Robert Williams, but they surely won’t be included because they are white, and not part of the narrative that is being crammed down our throats.
In my own case, I realized, I don’t even harbor a remote fantasy about any art I might ever produce ending up in a museum like MoMA, and it’s because I’ve already accepted that I am automatically disqualified. I learned in grad school a quarter century ago that my kind is not welcomed. There is a two-fold conviction that works against me. One is that I automatically represent, am complicit in, and embody everything wrong with the world. Two is that I should be sacrificed to the greater good. I distinctly remember, roundabout 25 years ago, one of my female classmate in a graduate art seminar, standing up and declaring that she didn’t just want fairness, but instead she wanted to turn the tables, and for white men to be in a subservient role. Applause filled the room. In essnence, my classmates wanted to be oppressors and to declare it virtuous at the same time. The second part of “you need to be sacrifice to the greater good” is that the greater good is ME ME ME ME ME ME! Similarly, many a battle cry against privilege is an attempt to secure privilege for oneself.
The greater good that requires innocent other people be sacrificed for ones own personal gain is not good at all, and blaming the individual for the perceived crimes of a group we assign them to based on their DNA is at best scapegoating. Doing this in the name of art is a crime against art. In practical terms, I’ve moved on. I merely aspire to be able to survive at all making art, one day, and not have to work other jobs anymore. Even that seems like a snowball’s chance in hell, but I intend to be able to say I did my best. How can you complain if you didn’t succeed, if you didn’t put forth your best effort?
In reality, I’m more optimistic than that, though still strongly tend to temper my expectations. I think with persistence I’ll be successful, at least in the way that most matters to me, which is making art that matters to me. It strikes me as arrogant to assert anyone else will value or pay for my art, but if I think it’s solid, it’s really just a matter of reaching my audience. There’s a way, and circumstances permitting, I’ll find it. That said, I still don’t imagine or care if I have any presence in official art institutions.
It’s considered moral that some politics are so important and urgent that art must serve their purpose, such as fighting sexism, racism, wars of opportunity, corruption (well, that one’s gone out of favor), and so on. My counter is that freeing art from being harnessed to politics and any political agenda is a greater good. Art has its own intrinsic worth and doesn’t need to be a prop illustrating or otherwise conveying this or that point in order to persuade people or educate them. That is as bad as thinking art needs to uphold certain religious values.
When I was in community college my Contemporary Literature teacher had us read John Gardner’s “On Moral Fiction”. Gardner argued that fiction need be moral. I found his book boring and missing the point of art. Artists might not conclude that an uplifting message is necessary or appropriate at certain times. They might want to express something else. Particularly, they might not have anything to do with moralizing. And besides, whose morality does art have to uphold? When I was an undergrad I was disgusted with Jessie Helms for trying to punish the NEA for supporting Robert Mapplethorpe and Andres Serrano. Years later I found myself arguing with people who were protesting outside the Sensation art exhibit at the Brooklyn museum. They, along with Rodolph Giuliani, were upset about Chris Ofili’s Holy Virgin Mary with elephant dung for a breast. I’m still battling the same people, only their faces have changed. What do they all have in common including those behind the new MoMA? They put their morality before art, which I argue is an unethical thing to do. I don’t care whose morality it is. Art is not subservient to politics or morality. MoMA now stands for, Museum of Moralizing Art.
I’ve never felt comfortable with morality dictating art, because I could never trust that morality is on my side or truly moral. The inquisition acted in the name of morality. So did Jessie Helms, and Rodolph Giuliani. Back in 1937 an exhibit of Degenerate Art had a moral purpose, and was a reaction against modernism. Morality has been the starch enemy of art for at least 500 years. Even Michelangelo’s The Last Judgement was considered blasphemous because of the nudity in it.
A museum’s objective should be to show us the best art irrespective of this or that political agenda, this or that narrative, and not to base its selection on the biology of the artists at birth, nor their geography, one way or another. The new MoMA fails in these regards, but is good for teaching us social justice through the manipulation of curation and art history. Art is robbed of its own meanings, and sauteed in an omelet serving up a belief system and a moral agenda. Those who are true believers in the social justice/identity politics paradigm will take solace. Those who love art will have to take a backseat and trust that this is all for the greater good. Sometimes art needs to be sacrificed for the cause, and a museum needs to conform to the dominant ideology! As a non-believer, I’d as soon go to church.
Your $25 admission will still allow you to see some good art within the new social justice context, but when it comes to the modern stuff, they haven’t rethought it at all that I can see. They didn’t re-imagine modernism in a way that would include more great figurative art that was sidelined or ignored because it didn’t fit the linear history of art narrative. The older stuff is just the same old Duchamp, Warhol, Minimalist, boring-ass crap, but with social justice pick toppings.
It’s as if they didn’t even know how to look at the last century and more of art in an informed and engrossed way where they’d quite naturally explore all sorts of neglected treasures, but just kept the A-list of the most hackneyed canon in place, and then used an academic ideology to introduce pieces in order to make a political statement hammering home their narrative.
And if people are objecting to my political stance here, to be clear, I am avidly against any individual’s art being excluded in MoMA on the basis of race, gender, biology, age, sexual orientation or identification, geography, political affiliation, class, religion, etc. But when you openly favor one or another group, you inarguably exclude other individuals. In short, we can say I am ethically opposed to choosing art based on who the artists are rather than on the art itself, which should be the only criterion.
Judge the artist by the art, not the other way around.
Just realized my title is a double-entendre, and people can read it that the Museum is decades behind in being woke, rather than that its woke agenda is decades behind.
6 replies on “MoMA Reopens Woke AF and Decades Behind”
Big smile 😊, Eric. Important questions, important things to think about. I tend to have one aim in art, to create/express some tiny (or bigger) element that uplifts something forgotten, creates a longing or remembrance for something primal in us worth wanting to regain or become conscious of (maybe again, maybe for a 1st time, I’m not enlightened enough to know, lol!) – thanks, Eric!
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“…younger generations can’t make sense of the concept of selling out,” sad, but true for “kids [of all ages] these days” its buy low, sell high, nothing else matters. ” We will eventually, inevitably wake up from wokeness” to what? post post modernism? Will it matter? fine art is already financialism and everyone else would sell out too—if they could.
Museums are like politicos, they have two audience—visitors/voters and donors—who are often at odds. Their, like pols, first objective is to stay open/elected, so they do what they must to entertain the first audience while really catering to the second.
Were I a curator I’d try to leap centuries and continents to compare and contrast truly diverse artists’ work, actively seeking to counter my time and place’s biases as opposed to: while MOMA sez they aren’t there to “teach,” they attempt to remold our minds by PC correctionist juxtaposes.
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Right, they have to stay open and turn a profit. The admission price, by the way, is $25. I’m wondering if the dumbing down and social engineering aspect will backfire, thougjh.Right, they have to stay open and turn a profit. The admission price, by the way, is $25. Just researching this material I had to close dozens of pop-up windows and other crap, and that’s with my ad-blocker on. Articles from the NY Times were one of my few free articles, and so on.
I’m not sure catering to the social justice movement is the best way to make money, because the best art that will be most appealing to audiences is not necessarily going to be moralistic art, and art that excludes the majority population.
“We will eventually, inevitably wake up from wokeness” to what? post post modernism?”
I just want to introduce the notion that something must come after “wokeness” so that people realize that it can’t be the final answer to everything. In reality, “wokeness” isn’t waking up at all, it’s just adopting a quarter century old narrative hatched in academia with a lot of potholes in it, and some highly toxic waste.
“We will eventually, inevitably wake up from wokeness” to what? post post modernism?”
I just want to introduce the notion that something must come after “wokeness” so that people realize that it can’t be the final answer to everything. It’s not waking up at all, it’s just adopting a quarter century old narrative from academia with a lot of potholes in it, and some highly toxic waste.
I had a funny thought this morning, which is that while some people are clamoring to be included in the permanent collections of museums like MoMA, I’ve already accepted that I am disqualified and it doesn’t even occur to me as a remote possibility that anything I could produce in the future would ever end up in MoMA.
“I’m not sure catering to the social justice movement is the best way to make money, because the best art that will be most appealing to audiences is not necessarily going to be moralistic art, and art that excludes the majority population.”
Eric, I’d say that most people in NYC, and people who hang out in art galleries are fully on board with the idea of being “woke,” so this is a safe play by MoMA. You haven’t lived in the US for a while, so you may not realized how politically polarized it has become here. When it comes to politics, fewer and fewer people are willing to “agree to disagree.”
You make a good point about how 30-some percent of New Yorkers voted Trump, but MoMA has no desire to represent their interests while it goes about “representing the diverse viewpoints of our surrounding community” or whatever. This sort of double-think is pretty common.
But on the subject of art that’s appealing to the masses, Andrew Wyeth is an interesting guy to read about. From what I gather, Wyeth got popular despite the wishes of the blue-chip art world. Indeed, on my one trip to MOMA a year and a half ago, there was a constant crowd of people gathered around his painting Christina’s World. From some articles that I’ve read, it seems that Wyeth’s popularity vexes the curators of MoMA. Because he’s not sophisticated or modern enough or something, but people love his work anyways.
So to me, Christina’s World is a rare example of a work that doesn’t really advance their morality play, but they have to show anyways, due to popular demand.
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Thanks for sharing your input, Damon. It’s good to know what someone on the ground in the US sees. I used to live in Brooklyn and work in Manhattan, but now not only am I on the other side of the planet, I haven’t been back to the US for a visit in around 7 years, and only once in the last dozen or more.
A funny thing about that is that the social justice/ identity politics narrative makes no sense over here. I’m the minority. I have to report to immigration every 90 days. When I was in China, I lived in the middle of nowhere where most people had never seen a foreigner, and I could count the other foreigners on my fingers. Everywhere I went people gawked, called me foreigner, and when the PRC ramped up nationalism, I used to get, “Fok U Lao-wai!” all the time (lao-wai means foreigner). Bosses tried to rip me off blind and felt justified because it was for the good of China.
The idea that Western culture is responsible for everything wrong with the world doesn’t make any sense when you live in China, nor can their fundamental problems be blamed on race. And when I hear, “You can see yourself on every channel” that’s not even remotely true. I could go on and on. Social justice is an America-centric – though obviously it’s spread all over the West – worldview. Woke don’t work in Asia. In fact, the much more obvious and timeless truth is that the real problem in any society is corruption, and corruption can afflict anyone regardless of biology or social station. We all have our own internal battles against greed, ignorance, selfishness, laziness, and so on. I joked in the article about fighting corruption not really being such a thing anymore. People want a scapegoat and to be themselves immune to wrong-doing (ex., POC can’t be racist). Not only do I see corruption as the real issue, I see wokeness as flawed to the point of corruption, and a lot of that has to do with its insistence of reinventing racial categorization with a vengeance, and assigning characteristics those categories. The sanctity of the individual is utterly sacrificed, and, that’s some nasty business, because everyone is an individual.
“Eric, I’d say that most people in NYC, and people who hang out in art galleries are fully on board with the idea of being “woke,” so this is a safe play by MoMA.”
Yeah, and my article isn’t making me popular at all. But one day, people will wake up from wokeness, and a few people here an there will remember that I was one of the people who was willing to speak up. Of course, I could be wrong, but that tends to be the admission of people who are open and flexible enough to not be full-on wrong.
“So to me, Christina’s World is a rare example of a work that doesn’t really advance their morality play, but they have to show anyways, due to popular demand.”
I really liked Andrew Wyeth’s “Helga” series. Anyway, art appeals to people for reasons other than that it bolsters their political views. Just think of our musical tastes. Who really listens to music because of the politics of the musicians? A lot of people don’t really care much about the lyrics at all. Hell, I listen to a lot of world music, and I can’t understand a word of it. Don’t care. I can just get into the instrumentation. So, people quite often like art for the aesthetics, the used of the medium, and with representational art, how the medium is used to recreate a semblance of reality.
I bet I could go through MoMA’s archives and find all sorts of amazing art that just doesn’t get shown because it doesn’t fit the old linear model of art history, in which if art wasn’t considered to make some sort of formal or theoretical breakthrough it wasn’t considered relevant. They didn’t do that! They talked about how the linear model is outmoded, but still kept all the heroes of the linear model.
The whole thing seems kinda’ dumb to me. Even MoMA’s website seemed like it was meant for a quick swipe through on the smart phone. And, honestly, the #fuckpicasso stuff seems even shallower than a blind adulation of him. At least in the latter there will be some attempt to grapple with art on its own terms. It’s so easy to just dismiss artists because of their behavior, or their gonads. Even worse, this seems to be about power, and certain people trying to take it for themselves.
I had a curious realization this morning, which is that not only do I not even harbor a remote fantasy of every producing anything which would be shown in a museum like MoMA, it’s because I have already accepted that I am disqualified because of my biology. This is compounded, however, by my not clamoring on the bandwagon of either the politics or the theoretical framework. I’m not a part of the art world proper at all, any more than I can be seen anymore on the F train.
Yes I read your double entendre title backwards too, but it soon became apparent…🙄
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