MoMA comes to Melbourne Part 2

Since I really can’t decide what works or art to include in my post, and what works not to, I have decided to split this post (though this is something that I seem to do quite regularly when it comes to a lot of these posts on the various exhibitions that I have been to). Anyway, in the previous post we had been following the evolution of art up to the 1920s, but now we move further on, to another style, with one artist we may all be familiar with – Salvador Dali.

Inner & Outer Worlds

What seems to be happening now is that artists began to move away from a lot of the abstract art that had developed over the 1920s, particularly the styles were the artist basically only painted colours as shapes, something that had somehow grown out of cubism, as exemplified by Picasso. Now we move into another realm, one much more surreal, with the likes of Salvador Dali, Yves Tangey, and Rene Margritte.


Thus surrealism was born, a movement that basically arose out of Paris. Here the artists had become much more meticulous, and in fact were able to create imagines, and panoramas, that were not only precise, but also seemed to stretch the boundaries of reality. In a way it seems that they had not just moved forward, and away, from the works of the impressionists, but also back to the world were precision in art was much more important.


Yet Europe was racked by disorder and turmoil, and with the treat of war rising once again, many of the artists decided to move elsewhere, and suddenly found themselves over the ocean in places like the United States, Mexico, and Cuba. Here the artists would influence, and in turn be influenced by, the styles that had developed therein. Anyway, let us start with a painting that we are probably all familiar with:



And here we are, Persistence of Memory by Salvadore Dali, a painting that he describes as his most ‘imperialist fury of precision’. In a way he is trying to capture the idea of memory, something that seems to be able to take solid shapes, and objects, and to be able to morph and transform them into something completely different. Here we have once solid watches, oozing off the side, as another is attacked and destroyed by ants. We also see in the distance, yellow cliffs, a memory of Dali’s homeland in Catalonia, disappearing into the vague white area of forgetfulness. Yet there is something persistent about memory, and there are thing which, no matter how hard we try, or how long time passes, just always seem to remain, something that is no doubt also represented by the clocks.


This painting is called Gare Montparnasse, or the Melancholy of Departure, which was painted by Girogio de Chirico. Gare Montparnasse is a station located in Paris, which happened to be located near where Chirico would work. This is a painting of contradictions, with the vanishing points just not quite working out the way that they are supposed to work out, which causes us to feel confused, and in a way a little uncomfortable. Another thing is that the title is about a departure, yet the train seems to be arriving, and further, the clock suggests that it is midday, yet the scenery feels that it is really another time of day. Was this all done on purpose? Quite possible, and maybe it is designed to throw us off, and make us think, especially since the painting, despite it’s title, does feel a lot more upbeat and warm, and melancholy and depressing.


Well, it seems that there was nothing written on the little plaque underneath this painting, except of course for the title, Mama, Papa is Wounded, and the name of the painter, Yves Tangauy. Mind you, it isn’t as if they really said anything all that amazing about the meaning behind the painting, but yeah, sometimes it came be pretty difficult to understand the meaning, even if the artist actually had a meaning. Once again, like the previous paintings, there is this shifting perspective, and also appears to be an apocalyptic landscape. The suggestion is that it evokes memories of the First World War, and of course there is this dark cloud manifesting there, as if the world itself is bleak and the horrors are still hanging around. This is all despite the fact that the world was experiencing huge economic progress, but no doubt this had a lot to do with trying to escape the horrors of the war.



Sometimes it is good just to paint things and let other people try to interpret what it is all about, but I’m still one of those people that feel that a painting (or any work of art) that the artist doesn’t have some personal meaning that they are trying to express really has no value, except for maybe its aesthetic value. Anyway, this painting, by Jean Viro, is called The Portrait of Mistress Mills in 1790, which is modeled after an earlier painting of Isabella Mills. Of course, this looks nothing like the original painting (which is on display in the National Gallery of England, and you can see it here). It a way the metamorphosis is almost comical, as if the artist is making a mockery of the original painting. Then again, these paintings were an attempt not only to capture the subject’s youth, and beauty, but also as a means of gaining some form of immortality.



And here is another painting by the master of turning a dirty paper napkin into a priceless work of art, Pablo Picasso (though this was hardly painted on a dirty table napkin), and is called a seated bather. Well, it doesn’t look like she (and I suspect that the subject is female) is wearing any clothes, though it could be that the term bather refers to taking a bath as opposed to going for a swim. Yet the head I find really interesting – it is as if it is a microcosm of the painting as a whole. It certainly does not seem to be an actual head. In fact the entire body looks disjointed, almost as if it isn’t a single person, but rather a collection of objects that have been thrown together that, if we look at it from another way, we can easily say that yes, this is a person.



This artwork is called Red Head, Blue Body by the Swiss artist Meret Oppenheimer. Yeah, it’s difficult to come to an understanding of the meaning of this work of art, much like many of the works that appear in this collection. Of course, it can come down to ‘what you will’, though many critics resort to the use of colours. Personally, I don’t care, but the thing that stands out is how the head, which is clearly supposed to be a human head, is connected to the body by a piece of string. In a way, to me at least, it suggests not just the fragility of the body, but more so the fragility of the neck, as if these to parts of us are just weakly held together.



This painting, simply called Gas, is apparently an amalgamation of many gas stations into a single image. In a way it captures not only the essence of modern America, as defined by the gas station, but also in a sense an aura of loneliness. Many gas stations seem to exist by themselves out on empty country roads, and while things may seem quiet, they also symbolise the lifeblood of modern Amercia, the fuel that keeps people moving from place to place, an important cog in the wheels of commerce.


Art as Action

So, now we move into the realm of the New York Surrealists of the 1950s. The previous years, those of the surrealists, focused on introspection, no doubt exploring the world that had emerged from the tragedies of the Great War, and in turn hurtling towards another, one that no one wished to get involved in. However, now we emerged from the ashes of this second war, with Europe and Asia rebuilding while the United States was now sitting on the top of the pile.
This was the beginning of what is now known as The American Century, and it is here that we begin to see the American artists move to the foreground, particularly out of New York, America’s true cultural centre (not Los Angeles, as some have suggested, since while Los Angeles may be the cradle of Hollywood, in reality it is New York from which many of the great artists and writers of this era emerge). Here we are introduced to Jackson Pollock, and down the line we also come to meet Andy Warhol.



And here we are, Jackson Pollock’s Number 7. Yeah, people are going to look at this and ask themselves ‘what sort of rubbish is this?’. In fact, that is what was said when the Australian Government bought a Pollock for a huge amount because, well, it is just paint splattered on a canvas. The reality is that anybody could do something like this – it really doesn’t take much skill. Sure, there is the claim that the painting represents the dance that Pollock was doing around the canvas, and others admire the style, but the truth is, Pollock, like Duchamp, is challenging the art world, and in many cases it is the name to which this artwork is attached that defines it, as opposed to the art itself. The reason nobody else can do a ‘Jackson Pollock’ is because there is only one Jackson Pollock out there. If I were to do the same thing, no doubt people would simply laugh, and accuse me of simply trying to copy him.


Okay, a red canvas that happens to have a bright red line painted down the middle of it. Well, if Jackson Pollock can create a painting worth millions of dollars simply by dancing over a piece of canvas while pouring paint onto it, then Barnett Newman can do exactly the same thing with a simple line. In fact, the plaque next to it talked about how it was a breakthrough style of abstract expressionism with a single line both uniting, and dividing, the canvas. Sometimes I wander who came up with these ideas, though it could simply have been Newman explaining to the art critics why they should even bother taking note of something like this. Of course, an empty room could do a lot as well.


Things as they Are

Now we arrive at the 60s and the emergence of the artistic styles known as Pop-Art, Minimalism, and Post-Modernism. Peter Salz criticised many of the artists of the time, claiming that all they were doing was reproducing things as they are, but in a way these artists were capturing the essence of the modern world, and celebrating America’s coming of age. Pop-Art, in a way, was taking consumerism and turning it into an artform, while Post-Modernism was helping objects understand the meaning of their existence. As for minimalism, well, I guess a line down the middle of a canvas sort of says everything you need to know about that (not that Newman was a minimalist artist).



It is interesting, in a comic book, the above image would, well, simply be part of a story, and in fact we would probably read it and pass over it without much though. What Roy Lichtenstein did was that he took this single panel, put it in a frame, and hung it on the wall. Well, that started off a huge craze, though of course Roy Lichtenstein is the one that gets all the credit for it. Look, I don’t even think I need to mention the comic (Sacred Hearts) because this image no longer forms part of the comic, and is now a piece of art in and of itself. In a way it does capture the essence of modern society, where we would rather die that admit that we need the assistance of somebody that we despise. What the true meaning of this panel was is now lost to time, because all that remains is the image.



Everybody knows what the map of the map of the United States looks like, but to Jasper Johns it was something more than that. In his words, he wanted to take something that we generally only give a furtive glance towards (unless of course you happen to be a map nerd, like myself) and turn it into something that will not only grab our attention but force us to look at it more closely. Well, taking a map of the United States, putting a frame around it, and hanging it in an art gallery is certainly going to do that, especially with all the art nerds spending countless ages trying to work out what it actually means, or just simply admiring the art for arts sake. Of course, he went further than simply getting a Rand McNally’s map and framing it, because he created the map himself, much in the style of the Abstract Expressionists of the not too distant past.



In a sense much of modern architecture seems to be pretty much the same, at least when we look at them in isolation. However, when Bernd and Hiller Becher traveled about West Germany documenting various scenes of a declining industry, especially the towers that stood over coal mines, it become evident, particularly when put together, that even in an industrial world, a world where function is preferred over form, that everything seems to have a unique aspect to them. This is the case when we look at what initially appears to be a collection of photographs of ‘Winding Towers’ only to discover that no two are actually alike.



Honestly, it wouldn’t be a MoMA exhibition without something on display by Andy Warhol, the king of Pop Art (well, I might be exaggerating things a bit there though). Mind you, I’ve already written a piece on him, especially since the NGV had an exhibition on his works as well. So, the above work is called, not surprisingly, Marilyn. It is a collection of screen prints, a medium that Warhol quite liked working with (and in a sense is a defining medium of the modern world). What these images capture is, well, the many faces of Monroe, particularly since this beloved actress sadly died of an overdoes at a rather young age, and not long after this work was produced



The above screen prints are in a way similar to the album covers we see above. The reason I raise that is because art, in many cases, is generally seen as being unique (to an extent, since means of mass producing works of art, such as through woodcuts, have been around for quite a while). However, with the inclusion of these album covers on the walls of the MoMA indicates an idea that art does not necessarily need to be unique, in the sense of being a unique object, such as a painting. Rather it is the image, an image that can be reproduced multiple times in multiple places. In fact, for this display, the designers of the covers are also included, though it turns out that, like a lot of commercial products, there tends to be more than one mind going into idea.



Honestly, I’m not sure which direction this is supposed to go, though I suspect that I have it upside down, if we base it on the direction it is supposed to be played. Yes, I know, this is an electric guitar, and yes, it was hanging on the wall of a museum. If you are familiar with your instruments though, you will recognise this as a Fender Stratocaster – probably the most popular electric guitar on the market. In fact, the designer, Leo Fender, who was an amateur electrician, designed it to be able to have interchangeable parts, and to also be able to be customised for the user. Then again, since my ability to play a musical instrument is basically non-existent, I guess I just have to admire the product of other people’s work. However, one could almost consider this to be a work of art that is used to produce works of art.


Creative Commons License


MoMA comes to Melbourne Part 2 by David Alfred Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. This license only applies to the text and any image that is within the public domain. Any images or videos that are the subject of copyright are not covered by this license. Use of these images are for illustrative purposes only are are not intended to assert ownership. If you wish to use this work commercially please feel free to contact me


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