Saturday, January 5, 2008


I went to MoMA today, for the Martin Puryear exhibition which comes down in a few days, and the Lucien Freud etchings which have just gone up. I thought I was a fan of Puryear and now trying to remember what I had seen before. Some of the pieces were absolutely delightful; the limb of a tree stretching heavenward from found wagon wheels, 5 exhibition floors high, testifying as obviously and improbably as a spiritual. But the naivete that could be breathtaking in an individual piece (to wit, the perspectival Ladder for Booker T Washington) edged toward embarrassment by the end of an exhibition that was comprehensive and expansive enough to exhaust the artist's few concepts in a handful of gestures that one might well applaud at first glance, but soon subside into yawns.

There was a bit in the wall text where he said he is taken with the referentiality of art. I think that may be a big part of the problem.

The Freud had the opposite effect on me, and in that it achieved what is generally the purpose of this sort of exhibition, to suggest, undergird, complicate, displace (as you will) the received understanding, or maybe the real point is to create the experience of having done so by flattering viewers preconceptions. Works for me.

It was the mad stares of the early studies that brought me closer to his sustained later fascination with Leigh Bowery, for example, and made the interaction, and Freud's determination not to exist outside it, so obvious and grand. Formidable the talent that can so dominate such a biography, such a history. The brows and planes and gazes that start so boldly but more naively engaging the viewer (who is always the portraitist's double; weird trick, Ive never felt that so clearly with any other artist) shift and force the viewer into a more confrontational, self-conscious posture (and I'm not just talking about subjects staring back at us over their indifferent genitals, although this is the most typical gesture). I'm not an art critic and if I were trust I would not endorse the biological or genealogical fallacy that I assume is a discredited cliche of Freud criticism, but I can't help noting my own overwhelming experience of the transference.

Otherwise I have to say again how much I HATE the whole MoMA experience, esp. the meat grinder escalators clogged with three and four abreast phlegmatic tourists who WILL NOT step aside for those of us who actually have somewhere to go at the museum.

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