Monday, August 11, 2008

Cultural prescription vs seeing art for pleasure (Other culture - Dali and Kirschner at MOMA)

From MOMA's website

We visited The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) yesterday and took in three exhibits - one on the architecture of modular housing which was fairly interesting, the giant Dali exhibit which I found an unfocused monster of a show, and the highlight for me: Kirschner and the Berlin Street. With shows like the Dali, I cannot understand what anyone finds pleasurable about them. One room after another was as crowded with canvases, boxes, and articles on the wall as the viewers were in the room. The conceit was to tie together his paintings and his film designs but as usual in these blockbuster shows, too many works meant I was able to see almost nothing at all. These big shows featuring popular artists end up attracting so many people to the gallery that we stood three deep to glance at little canvases hung too closely. Families line up with their children offering this experience as a kind of cultural prescription - no wonder there is so little appreciation for art in the U.S.

In stark contrast to the Dali was the tightly focused Kirschner and the Berlin Street, I knew I would like it just comparing the on-line descriptions of the two shows. The first thing you learn about the Dali in the intro is that it features 130 of his paintings. Wow - and how many cans of paint did he use to paint them? The exhibit of German expressionist Ernst Kirschner chooses only works painted or drawn between 1913 and 1915. They feature evocations of Berlin that narrow the streets with an angular perspective seeming to cut at the viewer like knives. The acid colors and 'primitivist' influence tell a story of a violent end to bourgeois politesse and places the prostitutes and dancers of the city center stage as World War I encroaches on an old way of life. It's ironic that the critics of the day (members of the bourgeoisie themselves) called these works primitive, as the paintings called to mind African masks, sculpture and dance that were making their way into the awareness of twentieth century artists. World War I would seem to indicate that the bourgeoisie were no less primitive. In this exhibit, boldly drawn lithographs, vivid paintings, and sketchbooks sit side-by-side so that you can see an evolution from rough idea to finished work. One can comfortably walk through the rooms in half an hour if one chooses and Kirschner, not having been in the employ of Warner Brothers, although well attended did not attract nearly the number of viewers the Dali did so you could actually see the paintings. Having just a few themes to focus on and a reasonable number of works spaced comfortably on the walls, one could string together one's own narrative and move back and forth among the images to relate vision and theme. The show is on through November 10.

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