I went first to the Guggenheim Museum, which I had not been to in decades. The main exhibition was the work of Alberto Burri, a postwar Italian modern painter. Maybe you’re familiar with his work – he did large abstract canvases exploring form and surface texture in a variety of media over the years. His work began with the use of scavenged materials such as burlap, thin veneers of scrap wood, found sheet metal. Later he shifted media, going on to some kind of textured, monochromatic acrylic materials giving the appearance of cement, then on to the use of stretched burned plastic sheeting. These were transparent, tinged with brown, and looked like glass or like drawings in air. I found them amazingly, elegant! His whole body of work was inspiring to me.
I also saw a wonderful group of Kandinsky paintings which are in the Guggenheim’s own Collection. There were about seven, and I was astonished at their size! I liked the earlier ones better than the ones he did later on in France but they were all great to see.
The Guggenheim building itself was almost the best part of the visit – both from the outside and from within. It had been, as I said, decades since I’d been there, & I completely forgot how it felt to be inside this cathedral-like “sculpture”, flooded with light and air! The outside was so alive and organic, and rather small compared to the surrounding buildings – like some kind of soft, white mushroom. At the same time, it almost looked hand-made to me because of the soft, irregular surface of the cement or stucco of the outside of the building.
I also went to the Museum of Modern Art, where I saw an equally inspiring exhibition of Joáquin Torres-Garcia. It was far too varied to describe here, but you must be familiar with his work. It was new to me and I spent about an hour very involved visually with the works on exhibit. I loved them so much that I bought the catalog – book of the exhibition to bring home and study at leisure.
There was also a great exhibition of Picasso sculptures. I admit I never have been a fan of Picasso because I find his work too playful for my temperament. However looking at these sculptures as abstract pieces I was amazed at how good they were and how excited I was by them. I almost didn’t even notice the figural content in them – I was so excited by how they spoke to me abstractly. There was a group of small to medium-sized sheet metal sculptures which were to my mind the best.
“MoMA” has a new – I think hideous – building connected to the original, small Bauhaus-influenced one, but it was enormous and so was the collection. I spent three solid, intense hours there, and probably could have spent the entire day looking, no doubt.
In addition to the Torres-Garcia, I looked at an exhibition of conceptual art from Eastern Europe and Latin America. A very curiously combined show, of a kind of work I have brushed up against in earlier years but never really related to. I still don’t, really, except in a sort of historical, nostalgic way, I’ll admit. This was an alternative, understated, avant-garde of the late 60’s early 70’s… I recognized one or two Hungarian artists from that period who are in the Nemzeti Galéria in Budapest. Here’s an example of something at the MoMA show: “Killing a Book”, by Czech artist named Milan Knížák. A typewritten text on a single sheet of paper describes: “Killing a book: stab it, cut it, burn it, paint it… etc”. Then there were a group of small black and white snapshots of these aforementioned methods of book-killing. It was rather powerful and chilling, in an understated way. See images HERE. But I also found myself looking at this display as a kind of interesting visual assemblage – old-fashioned hand-typewritten page, real chemically developed black and white photos… I am sure adding this layer of visual component was not in the artist’s original intention. Ah well, the hungry eye!! I include a few images of this piece from the MOMA website. The photos, by the way, look better than how I remember them in the exhibit.
I also ran very quickly through a Jackson Pollock exhibition selected from the Museum’s collection, essentially just to say hello to the paintings and verify that indeed they were as exciting and delicate as I had in my mind’s eye. His early works were vigorous, structurally powerful, and very colorful. The later ones were positively Asian in their delicacy – almost like some kind of airy calligraphy; also beautiful color, although of a much lighter quality than the early pieces.