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?

120922 a

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.

120922 b

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?

120922 c

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?