moma – art not canvas

When you think art, you probably think of the traditional paintings on stretched canvas. Of course if you were to expand your mind a bit, you’d acknowledge that there’s also sculpture in marble or bronze casts, photography in black and white or chromogenic color prints, and maybe even that there’s newfangled media art in video and 35 mm film.

But what about all the other art out there? Well MoMA, being for modern art and all, has a wide range of types of art. And in the modern world, a bunch of art is not on canvas. So let’s explore a bit, shall we?

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Alighiero Boetti. “Tapestry of the Thousand Longest Rivers of the World” (1976-1982). Embroidery on cotton and linen.

Let’s start with a textile, cotton and linen here. It’s on fabric but not canvas and it’s embroidery not painting. Embroidery and the fiber arts often get lumped into the category of craft or folk art, but this isn’t craft, it’s art.

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foreground: Gerald Summers. “Lounge Chair” (1934). Bent birch plywood with pigmented lacquer.
middleground: Alvar Aalto. “Paimio Chair” (1931-1932). Bent plywood, bent laminated birch, and solid birch.

Next up we have plywood chairs. Some would say that it’s a chair, it’s furniture, it’s obviously a piece of craft. Then again, it’s on a wall! It’s on a podium! It’s in a museum! Does that elevate it to the level of painting or sculpture? Must craft and art be mutually exclusive?

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Donald Judd. “Untitled (Stack)” (1967). Lacquer on galvanized iron.

This isn’t furniture, it’s art. Because it’s in a museum, it’s a really pretty green color, and it’s not obviously a chair. But, um … what is it? You don’t just see it, you walk around it, you scooch down to look at it from a different angle, and you treat it like sculpture. But you could set your purse down on it if you weren’t so afraid of the guards and gee, wouldn’t it look cool as shelves in your living room?

So yes, I sort of hijacked this post into a discussion of art versus craft. As an architect, this question is fairly central to my profession – because where does architecture fit with the two? It’s aesthetic and visual, but it’s utilitarian and has a purpose. Architecture that is solely concerned with art neglects issues of climate, place, structure, and suitability. Architecture that is solely concerned with craft is nothing more than a building devoid of life and fails to respond to the social, cultural, and visual implications of its existence.

Huh. Eh, whatever. It is what it is, isn’t it?


where in the world is carmen sandiego?

I have made it back to New York! And I have an apartment! Whew! I came to New York without a place to live, so for a week I was going all over the city looking at places, and in the process did some sightseeing. New York of course has an international bent, from the historic ethnic neighborhoods, to the United Nations, to the zillions of languages spoken in the subways, to the hoards of foreign tourists.

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Exhibit #1: Even my grandmother’s little New York apartment has a gigantic world map. Sure, it’s a tad outdated (depicted is the USSR … it also had East and West Germany labeled over in Europe) but whatever, you get the gist of where countries are. I don’t think there are many grandmothers in Idaho with world maps on their walls.

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Exhibit #2: There is a large globe at Columbus Circle, which is the southwest corner of Central Park and a major subway stop. How much more “this is an international city” can you get other than to display a statue of a globe in a high-traffic area? Okay, so the steel globe isn’t really part of Columbus Circle itself, but it’s part of the Trump International Hotel and Tower, which is at Columbus Circle … so it still counts.

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Exhibit #3: Alighiero Boetti’s embroidered world maps, currently on display at MoMA. I know the Italian artist better as Alighiero e Boetti, which is what he was referred to during his exhibition at the CAMH. I remember reading about his exhibition at work this summer, and was completely surprised when I walked into MoMA and saw his stuff! His retrospective at MoMA is called “Game Plan” and will run until October 1st. Those tapestries are pretty amazing.

I took a few more pictures from MoMA and the Met, which I also went to, but those will have to wait for another post. Yay for New York!