Friday, September 4, 2009

Thank You Mom

One of my favorite museums and one that I have visited all my life, is the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. MOMA does not just try to show how artists makes sense and order of the modern world. It also celebrates how artists can make the modern world a better place. Their exhibits of contemporary design have always been my favorite.

Until September 7th, MOMA is featuring an exhibit of the contents of a Chinese home. As is noted on the website:
Beijing-based artist Song Dong (b. 1966) explores notions of transience and impermanence with installations that combine aspects of performance, video, photography, and sculpture. Projects 90, his first solo U.S. museum show, presents his recent work Waste Not. A collaboration first conceived of with the artist's mother, the installation consists of the complete contents of her home, amassed over fifty years during which the Chinese concept of wu jin qi yong, or "waste not," was a prerequisite for survival. The assembled materials, ranging from pots and basins to blankets, oil flasks, and legless dolls, form a miniature cityscape that viewers can navigate around and through.
Gee, thanks mom for giving me an art career! Was my first reaction. But there is more to it, especially if you are interested in understanding your Chinese colleagues. How is their modern material universe different from yours? What do you really find when you open your home for all to see? You can find photos, videos (like the one above), and essays on the installation HERE.

As I noted, an important feature of MOMA is to promote good design for everyday use. To this end, MOMA provides e-cards to send and has a wonderful shop.

If you join the museum, there is a 20% off sale at the shop September 9-13, which features items from Muji as well as household items and clothing from Japan and Korea made exclusively for MOMA exhibitions. As you can imagine, I am a big fan of the sale!

One fall, in flipping through the catalog I was taken by an Adam Frank shadow-projecting lamp. As the lamp's flame flickers, a shadow of a pine tree projects on the wall. I thought about a friend in Tokyo who was estranged from his children and working hard on weekends. His greatest joy, besides his children, was hiking in Japan's woods. Stuck in grey Tokyo, I thought how much he might appreciate having the forest come inside his apartment.

So it was ordered and given to friend to hand deliver for Christmas.

But this story has a post-modern ending. I don't know if it was appreciated as it was never acknowledged. And neither was that or subsequent new years, my publications, my birthday, or my illness.

I suspect, unlike Song Dong's mother's house, it still sits in a box somewhere, unexamined.

Later: The NY Times review HERE.

It is at once a record of a life, a history of a half-century of Chinese vernacular culture and a symbolic archive of impermanence.

Although new Chinese art has a reputation for brash iconoclasm, loss is really its big subject. Political Pop painting may be big at auctions, but much of the most interesting new work is less about attacking the powers that be than about regretting the diminishment of the powers that were, or might have been: familial cohesion, social stability and spiritual certainty. In this respect, China’s new art is very much on a continuum with its old art, specifically with the tradition of landscape painting with reiterated motifs of changing seasons, parting friends and dreams of a golden age.

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