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The Museum of Modern Art

As its last major exhibition of the 20th Century and as a prelude to a major expansion, the Museum of Modern Art has staged a huge, three-part show culled entirely from its own collections that opened in stages in late 1999.

The handsome exhibition differs dramatically from the museum’s traditional installations in that it is not chronologically organized, but thematically. It has three themes – people, places, things – that are meant to be starting points for a re-examination of its collections.

In many instances, objects are juxtaposed brilliantly. In some, however, the relationships are very forced.

The opportunity to see long-familiar masterpieces in new settings, however, is definitely refreshing and the exhibition is a must for all art-lovers especially since it includes several very important recent acquisitions and a couple of dazzling special installations.

The exhibition includes many of the museum’s most celebrated paintings and sculptures, of course, but also many photographs, architectural works and industrial objects as well as film stills, reflecting the museum’s historic and pioneering interests. The exhibit has many computer installations available in many of the galleries and has published a handsome and provocative catalogue ($29.95, soft-cover).

In addition to the exhibition catalogue, the museum has just published a handsome, new, pocket-size guide-book ("MOMA Highlights," $18.95) that showcases 350 works of art in its collections that illustrates many works not in the exhibition, especially contemporary works, although there is some duplication.



October 7, 1999-February 1, 2000

The Moroccans by Heni Matisse

"The Moroccans," by Henri Matisse, 71 3/8 by 110 inches, 1915-16, MOMA, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Samuel A. Marx

By Carter B. Horsley

This show is the first part of the three-section ModernStarts exhibition, each of which occupies a separate floor. The three exhibitions do not open simultaneously but do run concurrently for most of the length of the shows.

Many of the museum's most celebrated paintings and sculptures are in this part of the exhibition such as Picasso's "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon," 1907, "Student with Pipe," 1914, and "Three Musicians," 1921, Henri Matisse's "Dance (First Version)," 1909, and Auguste Rodin's "Monument to Balzac," 1898. But there are also some surprising and fine more recent acquisitions that many people may not yet be familiar with such as Paul Signac's "Portrait of M. Félix Fénélon," 1890.

Perhaps the most startling and dramatic aspect of each of these shows is the huge installation to each exhibition. In this show, Sol LeWitt's "On black walls all to-part combinations of white arcs from corners and sides and while straight not straight, and broken lines," is an enormous "wall drawing" that was first realized in 1975 and which must be recreated for each showing. It consists of 190 combinations of four types of line executed in white crayon over a black grid on black walls.

"Despite the logical method of defining the drawing's properties the experience of viewing the work is one of deep engagement and visual enjoyment. In the current exhibition it is hoped that the viewer who encounters the drawing's grand scale and its sweeping arcs and lines on both physical and perceptual levels will find correlations to the corporeal," the museum's catalogue, which incorporates material on all three sections of the exhibition, states.

While much of LeWitt's oeuvre consists of simplistic and plain grid sculptures that conjure small, antiseptic jungle gyms, this "wall drawing" is awesome in conception, even though it owes a strong debt of inspiration to John Cage, Terry Riley, Steve Reich and Brian Eno, musicians whose experiments with chance and with repetition are quintessential hallmarks of the culture of the second half of the 20th Century.

"Along with his thee-dimensional structures, LeWitt developed the wall drawings under the rubric of conceptual art and the search for an alternative to painting. He maintained that the idea, as formulated in language, took precedence over the completed artwork: 'The wall is understood as an absolute space, just like the pages of a book. One is public, the other private. Lines, points, figures, etc. are located in these spaces by the use of words. The words are the paths to understanding of the location of the points.' In this sense, he has often been compared to a composer who creates a score for others to perform. Of the wall drawings, LeWitt has said: 'I think of them like a musical score that could be redone by any or some people,'" Mary Chan wrote in her catalogue remarks on the LeWitt installation.

The catalogue's statement that the museum hopes visitor's encounters with the work "will find correlations to the corporeal" is quite a stretch and reflects the sad fact that some of the thematic exercises in this "new" exhibition theory are not only not successful, but absurd. The LeWitt work is absolutely stunning and perfectly suited to line the bathroom of a gargantuan and is really worthy of permanent installation despite its immense dimensions. It is the type of work whose encompassing and controlling nature provides great visual fodder and viewers can, in hallucinatory fashion, immerse themselves in it and also instantly visualize it in different colors and patterns and in its abstraction provides them with a very meaningful sense of the infinite. This is wonderful abstraction, but it is doubtful that many visitors "will find correlations to the corporeal" and it would have been much more appropriate as the introduction to the "Places" section (whose magnificent introductory installation would also have been much more appropriate for the "Things" section).

As interesting as the LeWitt work is, and the museum certainly deserves plaudits for showing it, the one work of art that truly stands out in this part of the exhibition is "The Moroccans," shown above, by Henri Matisse.

Abstractions that lead to the infinite often lose some of their power/steam as their general/generic nature induces a mental fatigue for some viewers who get lost in their degenerational reveries on the work. This is not to suggest that such works are not wonderful, but they need isolation and meditation and freedom from competition from other works. LeWitt's work, for example, is overpowering and can only exist happily in a miminalist environment.

A touch of specificity and mystery can be more easily accommodated and assimilated and Matisse's great painting enables one to focus more clearly even if that focus does not always unravel its secrets or mystery. Moreover, it is a lot more colorful and beautiful.

The catalogue notes that "The Moroccans" is "a geographically distant memory, since the work is a compilation of his impressions of Morocco, which he had last visited two years earlier." "Those recollected images are set down as three distinct areas. The black field serves both to connect and separate these episodes. In the upper left, we see a balcony with an abstracted bouquet of flowers and, behind it, a domed mosque. Below this, four yellow melons with green leaves lie on a gridded ground. To the right on the pink field, a figure wearing a turban crouches or sits with his back to the viewer. To his left, another turbaned figure is seen from above. The linear form in the top right corner of the painting may describe another figure, with bent legs beneath a draped robe."

The free brochure that accompanies the exhibition provides some more information: "In Henri Matisse's The Moroccans, it is not certain whether we are expected to read the black as shadow, but looking at this picture is a bit like puzzling out objects wrapped in shadow in the world....This is a very disjunctive story about a Moroccan scene that is only put together by jumping visually from one part of the painting to the next. Instead of making a picture of a story and then asking us to imagine it coming to life, Matisse asks us to participate in the creation of the story by making the story come to life in the time of our viewing."

It is highly doubtful that most people will catch on to this "story" by merely looking at this painting without a label, or catalogue, though perhaps some will glimpse the generalized form of a mosque in the upper left corner, and fewer still will interpret the circular forms with blue and white stripes as flowers. While curators and the like might be absorbed with the notion of "story," what always matters most is the final product, the art work itself, and here Matisse has created a visual object of astounding strength because of the bold black and the mysterious but very vigorous and dynamic and splendid composition. There is a great deal going on here, in simple, abstract forms, but with a high degree of painterliness.

With its white grid lines in the lower left corner, this is a fitting pendant to the LeWitt and one wishes that they could have been shown along together in one huge room on opposite walls. Matisse's image would most likely come off better, its concentration of forms and askew geometry have more depth than LeWitt's. Matisse is, of course, known for the "flat" forms of color that he uses to great decorative effect, but here he offers a rather opened "Cubism" that is less obscure in composition, though not necessarily in meaning.

MOMA has many great paintings by Matisse, such as "Variation on a Still Life by de Heem," oil on canvas 71 1/4 87 inches, 1915, gift and bequest of Florence W. Schoenborn and Samuel A. Marx, that might also be included in such a room. It is part of the "Places" exhibition and its a dense rich work that is a bit too crowded in comparison with "The Moroccans" but a very colorful explosion of forms. While it is not including the "Things" show is a bit inexplicable. Another major Matisse "Piano Lesson," oil on canvas, 96 1/2 by 83 3/4 inches, 1916, is also included in "Places" although it would be more appropriate in "People."

Despite such glaring curatorial lapses, or misreadings, each of the sections does include some meaningful and fascinating works. Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas's "At the Milliner's," pastel on paper, 27 5/8 by 27 1/4 inches, circa 1882, gift of Mr. and Mrs. David A. Levy is a rather strange portrait of Mary Cassatt, the great American impressionist painter. She is seen trying on a hat but most of her body is obscured by an angled chair with a very vibrant pale-blue frame that is the most dominant feature of the work. Moreover, the partial figure of a shopworker proferring two other hats occupies the left side of the painting. "Longer looking will deliver the image of a second figure and allow us to disentangle a story about a customer and a shop assistant. Yet the ribbon-like shapes that loop around the composition seem to circulate quickly and endlessly, as if Degas wanted to prevent us from stopping to look for long at any single area. Like Matisse, Degas delays the delivery of the meaning, only he does so by increasing the velocity of the compositional circulation,' the brochure rather breathlessly states. We know from his great pictures of laundry workers that Degas had sympathy for workers and yet Cassatt is too important a personage in his circle to be slightly. Is there a clear-cut message here? Probably not. Perhaps it began as a study and the artist eventually wanted to expand it to a larger composition. It is beautifully painted, of course, but the blue chair frame is rather disconcerting. It is not just an oriental rug draped over a table in a Vermeer painting for decorative effect. If the shop is not so crowded as to permit an empty chair, then why not show Cassatt more fully? As it is, it is an interesting study but not a masterpiece and theorizing about delaying "the delivery of meaning" is most interesting as a subject but perhaps not relevant here.

On the other hand Edouard Vuillard's "Mother and Sister of the Artist," oil on canvas 18 1/4 by 22 1/4 inches, circa 1893, Gift of Mrs. Saidie A. May, is a marvelous work and good example of some of the curatorial thinking in this show.

"In the period 1880-1920 the role of the figure in pictorial art changed in important ways, as the more experimental artists began to think less about representing the figure than about composing with the figure. That is, there was a big shift from interest in the depiction of features and postures to interest in figural shapes as elements of pictorial composition. Interest in the language of the body gave way to interest in the language of figural composition. Thus, new attention was paid to the relationship of the figure and the surface of ground of a work, using that relationship as a way of conveying meaning. For example, in Edouard Vuillard's painting of his mother and sister his sister pressed up against the wall at the left is not easily separable from the pattern of the wallpaper - an effect that accentuates the self-effacement of her pose as she bends her head shyly in greeting just getting into the space of the painting. In contrast, Mme Vuillard is a bold, confident presence and is contrasted against the patterned interior. Camouflaging the one figure within the variegated background and therefore making it harder to see, also serves to make the figure more of a compositional element a device that helps unify the composition. Making the other figure a flat pattern contrasted against the background makes it seem as much an abstracted shape as a human figure; this device, too, was one used for compositional reasons, as painters began to think of their paintings as composition of flat shapes. The use of pictorial elements abstracted from gestures and postures and not gestures and postures themselves, led to the deconstruction of the figure in works of this period," the brochure maintained, correctly.

While the Vuillard in the exhibition is very nice, it is also rather minor in his oeuvre and he is, in fact, under-represented in the museum's collections as he is a fabulous painter, though somewhat inconsistent.

Marcel Duchamp, on the other hand, was no where near as prolific as Picasso, Matisse, Degas and Vuillard, but his work is consistently spectacular and quite amazing.

The Passage from Virgin to Bride by Marcel Duchamp

"The Passage from Virgin to Bride," by Marcel Duchamp oil on canvas, 23 3/8 by 21 1/4 inches, 1912, MOMA

"Thus," the brochure continued "Marcel Duchamp's painting The Passage from Virgin to Bride comprises a compilation of abstracted volumes and outlined convex and concave shapes that allude to, without exactly describing parts of the body. Its title suggests that he intended to show not so much a figure as a figural transformation, and the work may be interpreted as an evocation of a figure in movement as well as a view into its skeletal structure. Both the Vuillard and the Duchamp, in their different ways, require us to decipher visual narratives that are not immediately apparent. Neither work is deciperhable without reading its title. And there is unlikely to be agreement about what either work means, even with the help of its title. This is one of the results of composing with the figure. It is enough to make us wonder whether their actual aim of such works includes asking us to decide for ourselves what they might mean."

The painting obviously is not dissimilar to Duchamp's fabled "Nude Descending a Staircase," but here the image is far more complex and less "decipherable." Both paintings, however, rise far above decipherability and are particularly resonant at the end of the 20th Century when special effects in horror movies make for a general culture far more alert and receptive to organic forms of complexity. "The Passage from Virgin to Bride" is a very great painting especially given the supremacy of Cubism when it was painted. Here, Duchamp has taken a very limited palette but accented it with bright highlights and composed it in such a way as to provide much more depth than typical Cubist works and it is much softer and more painterly. Rather than make the viewer yearn for more generic variations on its obscure theme, it is a very palpable specific "thing" and only its title justifies inclusion in this "People" section. If it were painted tomorrow, it would still be an object of wonder!

Duchamp's "deconstruction" and blurring of individual connective tissues are themes that appear also in the great works of the Italian Futurists, where motion and dynamics are encapsulated into their images with great literalness, but also, usually, great poetry. MOMA's holdings of Italian Futurists is a bit meager, at least by its high standards. It has a large work, "The City Rises," by Umberto Boccioni, which is included in the "Places" section of the show, but while it is impressive it is too busy and does not show the artist to his best advantage.

Unique Forms of Continuity in Space by Umberto Boccioni

"Unique Forms of Continuity in Space" by Umberto Boccioni, bronze, 43 7/8 by 34 7/8 by 15 3/4 inches 1931 MOMA, acquired through the Lillie P. Bliss Bequest

However, his great bronze sculpture, "Unique Forms of Continuity in Space," shown above, is one of the most superb works of the 20th Century and is included in the "People" section. The museum's brochure for this section likens the artist's "deforming" of the body parts to the "'swish lines' commonly used in comics.'" The museum's catalogue uses the title of this sculpture for an essay by John Elderfield, who notes that the artist "sought to describe how parts of a body in movement might be imagined continuing in space beyond the body's physical envelope, stretched out by the velocity and flapping in the force of the wind." "Thus, Boccioni, it is often said, imagined a superman of the future. Less frequently noticed is that this hero is not even four feet tall. But clearly, the size of a work of art is important for the creation of its composition and for the way that the completed works affects the beholder. In painting creating the composition usually begins by establishing the size of the work. In sculpture, it ends with it...."

Elderfield's astute commentary focuses on the importance of size in sculpture as a function of representation, value and visibility. He notes that "most modern sculptors avoid life size, not wanting their work to be confused with mere imitation, and wanting its real, true size to be noticed as a compositional decision that the sculptor made." Elderfield observes that "Boccioni avoids a literally large size for his image of a hero achieving the effect of size with an expansively super-charged figure elevated on a pedestal." Elderfield emphasizes the importance of "visual clarity" in sculpture and the need, as in the case of "Symphony Number 1," by Vladimir Baranoff-Rossiné, shown below, "to see it as a whole."

Symphony Number 1 by Vladimir Baranoff-Rossiné

"Symphony Number 1," by Vladimir Baranoff-Rossiné, polychrome wood, cardboard, and crushed eggshells, 63 1/4 by 28 1/2 by 25 inches, 1913, MOMA, Katia Granoff Fund

This sculpture is delightfully animated with its jutting angles and voids and reminiscent and perhaps even better than similar ones by Picasso.

Elderfield's catalogue essay on "Actors, Dancers Bathers," however is disappointing and this section is one of the weakest sections. The exhibition juxtaposes two images of male youths in bathing trunks, one by Paul Cezanne, an oil on canvas, and the other by Rineke Dijkstra, a Chromogenid color print. Apart from the subject matter and size, both have very little in common and both and not exceptional works of art. This juxtaposition has drawn appropriate criticism from several sources. This section, however, does contain one of the museum's greatest works, "Bathers," oil on canvas 52 by 76 3/4 inches, a 1907 masterpiece by André Derain, shown below. Amazingly, the catalogue offers no discussion of this work, one which should obviously have been "juxtaposed" with Matisse's "Dance (First Version," which was executed two years and is more famous because Derain has been underplayed by most American museums, which have long been very much in love with Matisse.

Bathers by André Derain

"Bathers," by André Derain, oil on canvas, 52 by 76 3/4 inches, 1907, MOMA, William S. Paley and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Funds

While the five naked figures in Matisse's "Dance (First Version)" hold hands (all but one) while performing a circular dance, Derain only has three figures, all quite independent, and one is only partially naked. Derain's painting, which is smaller, has much more articulation and detail to the figures' bodies and a far richer and broader palette. Matisse's figures are more crudely drawn silhouettes filled in with pink while Derain's figures are powerful and palpable. Matisse is lyrical. Derain is dramatic. The simplicity of Matisse's work is easy and appealing and none of the figures confront the viewer. Derain, on the other hand, has his central figure in full frontal detail but also with a particularly intriguing pose. The woman's face is turned away from the viewer at an angle and looks upward, but her left hand is extended forward and almost seems to dangle in the air awaiting someone's grasp, possibly help, possibly invitation. Her right hand, however, is held behind her back. The bather on the left has both her arms raised as if to protect her head from something above and the bather on the right is shown from the back gazing upwards in almost the same direction as the central figure.

There is real mystery here, but it is not threatening because the figures are so strong and robust and the intensity of blue so positive and reassuring, so alluring and inviting. It is a darker, deeper blue than the extensive blue background in Matisse's painting, where it is not clear whether it is supposed to represent water or sky given the perspective. In Derain's work, the blue is clearly the water and no horizon is in sight. The perspective is downwards but the figures make us conscious of the unseen above. Such musings do not amount to much, but probably most observers would find Matisse's painting a little bland, a little distant and in comparison with Derain's and not as intimate.

This section of the exhibit also includes a lithograph of a "Bathers" scene by Paul Cezanne, since the best example of his "Bathers" in the United States is in the Philadelphia Museum and others are in the Barnes Collection. Cezanne's bathers series is very famous, but is much too conventional and conservative in comparison with the Matisse and the Derain.

While the Matisse and Derain are fabulous, this section and another entitled "Figure and Field" are by far the weakest of all three exhibits, with few works of note or interest.

"Composing with the Figure," however, is quite choice and includes the very excellent "Inasmuch as It is Always Already Taking Place" sixteen-channel, video-sound installation by Gary Hill, a 1990 work that utilizes different size monitors to display different parts of a naked body and that was a gift of Agnes Gund, Marcia Riklis, Barbara Wise and Margot Ernst. In her catalogue essay on this section, Maria del Carmen González notes that "As extreme as Hill's decomposition and reassembly of the figure is, it is built in the revolutionary methods of composing and deconstructing the figure introduced in the early twentieth century."

This section also includes a good painting by Gustav Klimt "Hope, II, of 1907-08. González observes that "despite the enormity and centrality of her placement, the brilliant colors and patterns that flood the composition are more mesmerizing than the figure," adding that "Perhaps only after further investigation of the robe's patterning may the viewer see the skull on the woman's belly and the female figures camouflaged toward the bottom of the robe." Klimt's luxuriant decorative powers transcend the obsession with detail of the Orientalists and burst art of the Art Nouveau preoccupation with organic sensuality and sinuousness. Their only comparable competition are the tres riches illustrations of the Middle Ages. He is the baroque pearl beyond compare of Italian Renaissance jewelry.

Portrait of M. Félix Fénélon by Paul Signac

"Opus 217, Against the Enamel of a Background Rhythmic with Beats and Angles, Tones and Tints Portrait of M. Félix Fénélon," by Paul Signac, oil on canvas, 29 by 36 1/2 inches 1890, MOMA, fractional gift of Mr .and Mrs. David Rockefeller

The notion of diminishing, subjugating and diffusing the power and focus of a painted figure is even more evident in a spectacular portrait of M. Félix Fénélon, shown above, by Paul Signac. González provides the following commentary: "...unlike Klimt's painting the figure is off to one side; in the center of the canvas is the eye of a swirling vortex, a dynamic design probably inspired by an anonymous Japanese print illustrating both geometric and organic kimono patterns. This visual disturbance detracts from the figure by pulling the viewer's gaze away from it....Also diverting attention is the figure's prominent gesture. He stands in profile seeming to offer a flower to an unseen person like an actor before a stage backdrop. In fact this is a portrait of a celebrated art and literary critic, who later become one of Henri Matisse's dealers. Signac said of the work, 'This will not be a commonplace portrait.' Even before its completion, Fénélon seems to have agreed, occasionally signing letters to Signac with 'Felix of the iris.'"

The glorious painting is both formal and mystical and regal. It is on a par with some of the greatest Pointillistic works by Seurat, who happens to be under-represented in this show. It is decorative, to say the least, but it demonstrates that individual great works can transcend styles and schools and even be oblivious to their times. It is of no particular import that this work happens to have a very dominant background and therefore fits in with a theme of figurative de-emphasis. It simply is stunning and needs no theories.

One of the great surprises of this part of the exhibition is Man Ray's "The Rope Dancer Accompanies herself with Her Shadows,'" a 52-by-73 3/8-inch oil on canvas, 1916, gift of G. David Thompson that is quite remarkably abstract and impressive. Vincent Van Gogh's "Portrait of Joseph Roulin," 1889, is one of the museum's more recent acquisitions and a most felicitous one as it is superb.

Interesting, evocative, poignant gestures and poses, of course, are part of what one looks for in figurative works. Just as the clenched hand in Thomas Eakin's "Gross Clinic" is riveting and as Derain's extended hand in the "Bathers" is fascinating, the proffered hand in Signac's portrait is a major focal point of interest.

World's Fair, New York by Garry Winogrand

"World's Fair, New York City," by Garry Winogrand, gelatin silver print, 81/8 by 12 1/8 inches, 1964

What then to make of "World's Fair, New York City," the photograph shown above, by Garry Winogrand, a photographer celebrated for his casual, off-hand, akilter, and generally unattractive pictures. Here is a composition that seems more worthy of a Michelangelo, or a Brueghel. This composition is as close to being too good to be true as possible. It is extremely hard to believe that this was not a posed picture, especially given the "artist's" oeuvre of sloppy and uninteresting compositions and poorly executed pictures. Inexplicably, Winogrand was wildly praised for many of his works, perhaps a reflection that he was involved with the museum. In any event, this is a pretty memorable picture even if it might have been posed. This work is included in a section entitled "Posed to Unposed: Encounters with the Camera," and the museum's brochure states that "this picture provides no evidence whatsoever that the sitters are aware of the photographer," adding that "Instead their focus is concentrated elsewhere - on intimate conversions and the passing activity of park life. As such the image captures the basic qualities of unposed photographs." The catalogue notes that "In addition to the physical description the work provides - the pattern of legs, the leans and whispers - it also alludes to broader human relationships and suggest the coexistence of two parallel worlds: the specific and intimate reality of the women clustered on the park bench and the anonymous presence of the crowds visible in the distance."

The photograph is too good and too perfect to fit into Winogrand's chosen style and it is exceeding hard to reconcile with his oeuvre, much of which has been regularly displayed at the museum. It would have been helpful to have had more of his work shown or at least to have an unequivocal statement that it was unposed.

The section on photograph is disappointing, especially given the museum's historic support of the medium. The most striking photographic work in this section is Henri Cartier-Bresson's "Alicate, Spain," a 1933 photograph of three woman, all staring directly at the photographer. The catalogue notes that the woman are responding "to the photographer's assertive presence by configuring themselves into a bizarrely twisting arrangement that is both graceful and disturbing." "As they turn to look into the lens of this 35mm camera, they lean into one another and and bodies forming a circular flow of contract. To the left, a woman raises a blunt knife to her companion's neck in a pseudo-menacing gesture. Like other photographs by Cartier-Bresson, this one is full of ambiguities: who are these subjects, and what are they attempting to convey by their actions? Inspired by Surrealism's attention to uncanny occurrences and odd juxtapositions Cartier-Bresson extrapolated fragments of the visual world through cropping, framing and foreshortening to create enigmatic compositions stripped of all spatial and narrative context."

These two photographs are certainly provocative and as such worthy of inclusion, but the lack of supporting commentary in depth is frustrating. There are times when the exhibition suffers from superficial juxtapositions and the compartmentalized themes are usually too small to reach any meaningful conclusions, especially for visitors who have not memorized the catalogue in advance of their visit. Too much territory is being covered. Still, the museum is to be applauded for presenting its treasures in new venues and lights and contexts. Such "new" views help us to rediscover individual works and MOMA has an abundance of masterpieces, many of which are included here.



October 28, 1999-March 14, 2000

"...The Appearance Becomes Apparition"

"Cementeio-Vertical Garden" installation by Maria Fernanda Cardozo.

112 by 12 feet, 1992

By Michele Leight

Rising up on the escalator to the third and final floor of the exhibition, the viewer feels for a split second that they should be lying down to take in Maria Fernanda Cardozo's "Cementeio-Vertical Garden", originally created in 1992. Flowers grow vertically up from the ground in nature, but Cardozo's all white, plastic blossoms arch horizontally from a vertical wall, 112-feet-long and 12-feet-high. Penciled-in two-by-two-feet arches, five inches apart, form a "grid" from which the flowers emerge through holes drilled into the wall. The artist says that before they are attached, "the wall looks as if it is riddled with machine-gun fire." The penciled arches "refer to a necropolis, or city for the dead, with mausoleums tightly packed together and niches along some of the walls with vases for freshly cut, or plastic flowers" says Maria del Carmen Gonzalez in her essay on this work in the catalogue. In Cardozo's native Columbia, such cemeteries are traditional and familiar, as they are in many places in Latin America and Southern Europe.

Cardozo was born in 1963 and had a studio near Bogota's Cementerio Central. In the 1950's, and until she created the original installation in 1992, the bodies of victims of urban violence were brought there and laid out to be identified. The subject is nature, decontextualized and transformed evocatively and symbolically in the Minimalist tradition of the 1960's and 1970's; the "place" as described by the artist, "preserved, frozen in life forever, in a particular moment of existence."

This is the eternal garden, the "place'' that never dies, even though the flowers are plastic and grow horizontally; they are so beautiful it does not matter. Something this beautiful gives pleasure, soothes and strokes the senses back to a time and place " the experience of extreme beauty, the unashamedly beautiful - white, beautiful, and pure," according to the artist.

It is a gorgeous sight and easily the most memorable in this exhibition, which includes many familiar masterworks and a few surprises. One is struck most not by the aesthetic quality of many of the works, but by how much a part of their era they were, especially from a technological vantage point, as they both reacted against the onslaught of the Industrial Revolution and the pathos of the crowded city but also marveled at the startling new advances of their age.

Leaving behind the unified and serene atmosphere of the "garden wall," the viewer is confronted with a diverse "panorama" of paintings, prints and photographs; the paintings include Mondrian's "Pier and Ocean 5," 1915, Kirchner's "Street, Dresden," 1908, Monet's "Waterlilies," 1910, Picasso's Cubist "Landscape," 1908, Andre Derain's "Bridge Over the Riou," 1906 and Van Gogh's exquisite "Starry Night," 1889, shown below.

The juxtaposition of "Starry Night" and "Pier and Ocean 5" shows a very dramatic change in landscape painting, reflecting a world and a society experiencing the side-effects of the industrial revolution and the abandonment of realism for abstraction.

"Starry Night," by Vincent Van Gogh, oil on canvas, 29 by 36 1/4 inches, 1889, MOMA Acquired through the Lillie P. Bliss Bequest

In their catalogue essay, "The Country and the City", Mary Chan and Maria del Carmen Gonzalez argue that "...In the 20 years between the two paintings much had changed." "Van Gogh's painting offers a highly emotional account of the natural world in swirling, organic patterns of paint. Mondrian's work, by contrast, reduces the ocean's waves and reflections into a pattern of vertical and horizontal lines, and the pier is tilted up to the vertical."

Mondrian made the painting on a visit to his native homeland, Holland; trapped there and unable to return to Paris at the outbreak of World War I, this "geometric version of nature is informed by the urban expanse," the authors wrote, as well as by the Cubism of Braque and Picasso, "a style formed in the city and devoted to the urban environment...the country as seen through city eyes and a city vocabulary."

Ocean and Pier 5 by Piet Mondrian

"Ocean and Pier 5," by Piet Mondrian, oil on canvas, 34 5/8 by 44 inches, 1915, MOMA, Mrs. Simon Guggenheim Fund

In the forty years covered in the ModernStarts exhibit (1880-1920), the first 20 years show primarily paintings of nature; the remaining 20 years give way to urban landscapes and the people who inhabited them. In Kirchner's "Street, Dresden," 1908, human beings are portrayed in vibrant color as isolated, organic forms, detached from each other and from the viewer. They have braced themselves against the city's crowds and commotion; they are "withdrawn into the self....His work looks back to the art of [Edward] Munch, and conveys a similar sense of alienation in the urban environment," observed Chan and Gonzalez. Ten years earlier, Munch had painted "The Storm," one of his more psychologically "charged" landscapes. These were not happy-campers in the modern world, and the presence of houses amidst the countryside are almost sinister reminders of the urban encroachment upon nature, with man sandwiched uneasily in between.

Washerwomen by Paul Gauguin

"Washerwomen," by Paul Gauguin, oil on burlap, 29 7/8 by 36 1/4 inches, 1888, MOMA, The William S. Paley Collection

In stark contrast to Munch's troubled canvases and woodcuts, Gauguin's almost Arcadian rendition of "Washerwomen at Pont Aven," 1888, shown above, and his glorious Tahitian landscapes populated by beautiful native women in printed sarongs and not much else, reflected his final retreat to the island idyll, the dreamed-of "escape" of urban dwellers to a tropical paradise. Gauguin had left Paris to paint with fellow artists in Pont-Aven in Brittany, continued on to the Caribbean and then to the South Seas. There he began his lithographs in the hope of reaching a wider audience. In her catalogue essay, "Landscape as Retreat - Gauguin to Nolde," Wendy Weitman writes that the colorful Japanese woodcuts that flooded Paris by the 1880's, after trade with Japan had been reestablished, in the mid-nineteenth century were widely admired and collected by artists, including Gauguin, "for their flattened, unmodelled forms, decorative outlines and abstract sensibility."

This Gauguin, recently promised to the museum by David Rockefeller, is very fine and has an interesting and strong diagonal composition as well as a quality of wispishness in the lovely green trees at the stop and of ephermality in the cut-off faces at the lower left-hand corner. It typifies the artist's focus on people and would be a fabulous pendant to Millet's versions of "The Sower." Gauguin's oeuvre is a bit uneven with some works a bit too sweet, naive and pretty, but this shows him at his best with a wonderful palette, serious and sympathetic content and fine organization. The bold ripples in the water and the darkness of the opposite bank perhaps were unconscious statements of the drudgery and torment of hard working women but the erect and proud posture of the figure at the left and the movement of the cut-off faces indicate respect for them and possibly hope.

It is surprising, actually, that the museum chose to include this painting for the "Places" section of the three-part exhibition and not the "People" section as it would have made for a startling contrast because of its diagonal composition and cut-off face faces with Garry Winograd's "World's Fair, New York City, 1964," a small gelatin silver print photograph, illustrated above in the "People" section of this article.

This exhibition draws on the full range of the museum's collections in many media and includes a significant number of woodcuts and lithographs by Gauguin, Munch, Nolde, Kirchner, Erich Heckel and Schmidt-Rottulf, the most memorable being Munch's "Evening (Melancholy: On the Beach), 1896, Kirchner's "Winter Moonlight," 1919, shown below, and Nolde's "Windmill on the Shore," 1926, with its menacing black cloud reflected in a murky sea.

Winter Moonlight by Kirchner

"Winter Moonlight" by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, woodcut, 12 1/8 by 11 5/8 inches, irregular, 1919

Kirchner retreated permanently to Davos after the war and described the image of "Winter Moonlight" as "a response to the urban violence occurring in Berlin during the Weimar uprisings of the day." "People are half mad there. Amidst machine-gun fire and invasions they are partying and dancing....There was such a wonderful moonset early this morning; the yellow moon on small pink clouds and the mountains a pure deep blue, totally magnificent.......How eternally happy I am for all that to be here, and to receive only the last splashes of the waves of outside life through the mail," he continued." In the midst of an Alpine paradise, Kirchner is haunted by the terrors he had witnessed, which transfer to this dramatic and very beautiful print.

The Fauves and German Expressionists, of course, have lost none of the power over the decades. Indeed, their work at the start of the 20th Century remains perhaps the strongest of the century because of its intense emotionality and daring brushwork that make the wonderful intellectuality of Cubism and pure abstractions of later generations too cool in comparison to say nothing of the insider "isms" of even later movements. This part of the exhibition does not contain any great floral watercolors by Nolde, one of its few notable gaps, particularly since they would have made for remarkable juxtapositions with Monet's famed "Water Lilies."

Claude Monet's "Water Lilies," 1920, dominates an entire and very large wall as only his gorgeous panels can do; the viewer becomes mesmerized, lost in his watery paradise of lily pads and reflections, moving forward and back, each time seeing something new. In his catalogue essay, "Seasons and Moments," John Elderfield quotes William Seitz remarks on Monet in the catalogue that accompanied the 1960 MOMA exhibition on Monet:

" him..., from the beginning, nature had always appeared mysterious, infinite and unpredictable as well as visible and lawful. He was concerned with 'unknown' as well as apparent realities."

One is at first overwhelmed by the size of this work and then by the fact that it is comprised on three separate panels, a "device" used by later artists with mixed effects. It is a bit hard to overcome the fame of this series of paintings by Monet. Held in highest reverence by the general public, they nonetheless are not his greatest achievements and pale in comparison with this great series of "Poplars" and "Rouen Cathedral" or his dazzling visions of the Thames in London.

By 1940, Monet's work, especially his late canvases and the Water Lilies paintings, appealed to a new generation of Abstract Expressionists, like Jackson Pollock and Helen Frankenthaler. In 1956, Leo Steinberg wrote of MOMA's recent acquisition of a Water Lilies painting: "For all his fabled and acknowledged realism, Monet now looks in nature for those fractions in which - torn from all mental moorings - the appearance becomes apparition." The man most clearly identified with Impressionism had touched down on Abstract Expressionism long before the movement had come into being.

Parallels are drawn in the exhibition between Monet's "Water Lilies," 1920, and Kandinsky's "Four Seasons" paintings of 1914 for Edward P. Campbell, Cy Twombly's Four Seasons," 1993-1994, and Joan Miro's "The Birth of the World," all included in this exhibition. Elderfield writes that the paintings "...urge the beholder not to try to be more specific than themselves but, rather, to consider them in relation to the mystery that surrounds them, not as a problem to be cleared up but as the very condition in which they appear at all."

In theory this makes sense, but in the reality of the exhibition it is a bit stretched, indeed, thin. Kandinsky's four panels are shown in a circular room as their commission intended and they are vibrantly colorful, but nowhere up to the artist's spectacular compositional abilities and mental gymnastics. Twombly's work, despite the efforts of the art market, is just not up to museum-standard and certainly suffers in comparison with the lesser works of Kandinsky.

The "series" concept is echoed throughout the "Seasons and Moments" section of the exhibition even though they are separated by rooms: Atget's photograph of a beech tree taken on three separate occasions from 1919 may be compared to Robert Adam's scenes of photographs of the Columbus River in 1990. Monet's goal "to produce an illusion of an endless whole, a wave without horizon, without shore" is apparent in Adam's ocean photographs, "Southwest from the South Jetty, Clatsop County, Oregon, 1990," along with the specificity of tidal detail and climate, but Adam's work is several leagues below Monet's. Given the museum's great and long-standing commitment to photography it is understandable that photographs occupy a large part of the exhibition but despite current enthusiasm by some museums to mix media it is unfair as photography, especially early, small monochrome works suffer miserably when placed close to large and very colorful paintings with depth.

Painting and photography capture nature in one dimension: Bill Viola's video "Hatsu Yune," ("First Dream"), records a slice of Japanese landscape in a series of images, "an endless whole...of scenes experienced as if in a dream...from a detached, third-person point of view" continues Elderfield. For all its modern, cinematic and panoramic imagery, the video is akin to Adam's ocean and Monet's Waterlilies. Nature is mysterious, yet accessible, through unflinching observation. Viola also happens to be a very fine artist.

By the 1880's and on through to the 1920's landscape, or land, became a place of retreat and relaxation, the antidote to rapid industrialization and over-crowded cities. Travel by train, and later by car, opened up new "vistas and sites", and artists were quick to take advantage of new subject matter. Landscape painting became "site-specific," implying recognition on the part of the viewer of the subject before them.

Two strains had dominated French landscape painting until the 1880's: the "southern" tradition was represented by Nicholas Poussin's Arcadian scenes and Claude Lorraine's poetic "Roman Campagnas," both classical, Italianate depictions of nature fortified with historical scenes. Less idealized and more realistic was the "northern" Barbizon School that followed the Dutch seventeenth century model: they painted what they saw, accurately and naturalistically.

Claude Monet, drawing on his early exposure to the Barbizon School and the Normandy countryside, eventually reflected an entirely different way of looking at, and painting, landscape. Paul Cezanne, along with other Barbizon School painters, sketched and painted in the Forest of Fontainebleau, and in his home town of Aix-En-Provence.

In her catalogue essay, "Changing Visions - French Landscapes," Magdalena Dabrowski describes Cezanne's desire to "re-do Poussin after nature...He wanted, that is, to convey the timelessness suggested by Poussin's idyllic landscapes, yet simultaneously to render the specific qualities of the place and the moment in which he himself was working. Building up form out of touches of color, Cezanne focuses the viewer's attention on the substance of the picture - on the relation between the illusion of place and the means by which that illusion is created."

Cezanne's best known "place" in his paintings is Mont-St.-Victoire in Provence; while his "means" might have been inventive, there is no doubt that the subject is this mountain. Van Gogh, on the other hand, mixed actual landscapes with invented ones. Voluntarily confining himself at the asylum in the village of Sainte-Remy-de-Provence, he painted his exquisite "Starry Night"; "the village lies below the mountains where the artist has situated it, yet his church steeple is entirely made-up,"rising up in distant parallel to the soaring cypress in the left foreground, Dabowski wrote, adding that "A number of writers have likened this addition to the churches of Van Gogh's native Holland."

The glorious light and coastline of Southern France inspired many artists to return to reside there and paint. Signac settled in St. Tropez in 1893, and his friend Matisse, who had visited him often settled on the Riviera permanently by 1917.

L'Estaque drew Cezanne, and in 1906, Derain, whose vibrantly colored "Bridge Over The Riou" established him as one of the "Fauves", or "Wild Beasts," so named because of their extreme and lurid palette. In "Bridge Over The Riou," shown below, Derain's previously "loose" composition gave way to L'Estaque's vertical trees and horizontal landscapes, strengthening the underlying structure of the composition. "The landscape of L'Estaque helped Derain to synthesize his interest in 'matiere,' that is in paint and surface texture, and in dazzling combinations of color, according to Dabrowski.

This and "Starry Night" are the best paintings in this section of the exhibition!

Bridge over the Riou by André Derain

"Bridge over the Riou," by André Derain, oil on canvas, 32 1/2 by 40 inches, 1906, MOMA, The William S. Paley Collection

In 1908, Braque painted "Road Near L'Estaque", a tighter, more subdued composition of the same landscape. Departing from his earlier "Fauve" work, with its exuberant hues, and structured but curvilinear patterns, he looked back to Cezanne. Dabrowski maintained that Braque "emphasized the structure of the site, but his forms are more geometrical than Cezanne's." "He limited color to the triad of ochres, blues and greens, and covered the canvas with a feathery brushwork, an almost uniformly dense surface pattern. This angular structure and restricted color make 'Road Near L'Estaque' proto-Cubist," writes Dabrowski.

Both L'Estaque and Collioure, a seaside village in the eastern Pyrenees, inspired "Fauve" painting, but it is Manet's "Landscape at Collioure" that earned Collioure the title as the real birthplace of Fauvism: "Shocking at the time, Fauvism was based on the use of bright primary colors applied in small brick-shaped marks, creating a mosaic-like surface. Between the brushstrokes, raw, unpainted patches of canvas show as visible whites or beiges, heightening the painting's chromatic intensity....Fauvism enacted a reconciliation between tradition and innovation in landscape painting, combining the classical tradition - the Arcadian vision inherited from Poussin- with the more closely observed mode derived from the Barbizon, a mode, however, that as we have seen, with Impressionism and Cezanne, developed into an analytic exploration of how to represent what was observed," Dabrowski wrote.

Collioure was to Fauvism what the Catalan village of Horta de Ebro became to Cubism. Picasso summered there in 1909, intending, he said, to paint landscapes better than those Braque had done the year before at L'Estaque. "In their structure and composition, works such as 'The Reservoir, Horta de Ebro 1909, represent the early phase of Analytical Cubism," writes Dabrowski.

Picasso photographed Horta and his paintings closely followed what he photographed, "while also massing volumes in 'cubified' shapes that give the work its structure." Dabrowski adds that "although the forms of his works in Horta de Ebro reflect his understanding of the late, faceted forms of Cezanne, they do not reflect light the same way. In fact Picasso renders nature as a kind of architecture."

Henri Matisse's "Periwinkles, Moroccan Garden," 1912, painted while he visited there, mark an end of his "Fauve" phase and the beginning of another, more personal vision of landscape. Before him was an exotic, visually sensuous and luxurious landscape, bathed in color and light: "The gardens in particular, with their lushness and color became for him a kind of Arcadia - places of solitude, contemplation and retreat. The painting is 'abstract' (in its compositional arrangement), yet specific (in its palette and atmosphere). It was through inventions like these that landscape painting was assured its important position within the development of modern art." Dabrowski continued.

In these technocratic days of DVD's, computers and laser technology it is difficult to think of photography as a revolutionary new medium, but it certainly was back in 1839, when it was invented. In the years that gave the world the light bulb, the car, great dams, and railroads that crossed an entire continent, the camera was there to record it all for posterity. On a more human level, the camera documented the hard grind of the working world, the farmers, loggers, pioneers and city factory workers, as well as the more established families at home and on vacation, with a new-found leisure and weekends free of work.

The world was in the throes of an industrial revolution, and the excitement of being witness to the construction of the Eiffel Tower is palpable in H. Blaucard's "Untitled" photographs of 1889 (Platinum Prints). For all the wealth and might these feats of engineering and machinery produced, there was the down-side - the poverty and squalor of crowded cities, captured by the photographer Jacob Riis in "Flashlight Photograph of One of Four Peddlers Who Slept in the Cellars of 11 Ludlow Street, Rear," circa 1890. The barbarism of child labor is explicitly portrayed in the image of a small girl leaning wearily against a brick wall, also by Jacob Riis, entitled "I Scrubs - Katie Who Keeps House in West Forty Ninth Street." circa 1890.

The speed and thrust of modern life in an urban setting is marvelously caught in Jacques-Henri Lartigue's "Paris, Avenue des Acacias," 1912, with a bowler-hatted bicyclist looking on helplessly as his pedaling proves no match for a powerful motor-car which will momentarily leave him behind in a cloud of dust. Motion, in all its intensity, is poignantly photographed in Etienne-Jules Marey or George Demeney's "Untitled," circa 1890-1900, a gelatin silver print of a sprinter from crouching position to upright running, in a series of images. Here, in simplified form, is the forerunner of the "motion" picture.

For the public at large, the invention of the box-brownie made photographs more accessible, and homes were flooded with snap-shots taken by family members of family members, neatly displayed in cloth or leather-bound albums as a symbol of stability and prosperity.

Science, technology and medicine both inspired and were inspired by photography; psychiatrists photographed patients' facial expressions and brains ("Map of the Brain", photographer unknown, circa 1915, published by the Psychiatric Clinic of Breslar); scientists photographed the moon (Loewy and Pulseux, The Moon, 1899), and aerial photography brought new intelligence to countries at war (Untitled-aerial reconnaissance photograph, Lavannes, World War II, 1917). The great artist-photographers Alfred Steiglitz and Edward Steichen, made traditional and more adventurous images of their world, always alluding to painting.

Susan Kermacic concludes in her catalogue essay, "Rise of the Modern World," that "it was the photographs made without artistic intention that would prove the most inventive and influential." "It was through images of the countless machines and inventions of the industrial revolution, and of the social and physical changes they precipitated, that photography demonstrated itself as modernity's great partner, nurturing the complicitous relationship between itself and the world and forever changing our future," she wrote.

In 1908 Wilbur Wright flew 56 miles in Le Mans, France. The following year, Louis Bleriot crossed the English Channel, and the French reminded the world that it was the brothers Joseph and Etienne Montgolfier who had started the whole flying craze by inventing the hot air balloon in 1783!

In "The Conquest of The Air," the catalogue shows us a powerful image by James Wallace Black, "Untitled," (Providence, Rhode Island, seen from a balloon), circa 1860. The elements have played havoc with the emulsion of the first photograph taken from the air in America; while the image excites the viewer and glorifies flight, it also reminds us of the dangers these first aviators faced as they took on the skies in a wicker basket and a gas-fired balloon. The military were quick to utilize this new technology, and Royal Air Force pilots were taught to recognize the different types of landscape: "Cubist country" signified configurations of fields bounded by roads, while "Futurist country" denoted more disordered, uninterrupted patterns. Aerial photography offered a new vantage point for painting, sculpture and most spectacularly through photography.

Kasimir Malevich's Suprematist composition: "Airplane Flying," circa 1915, closely resembles an aerial perspective; "Malevich perceived flights liberation of people from the earthly realm as analogous to his conception of Suprematism's freedom from the material and its representation of spiritual absolutes. In aerial photography's abstract shapes and lines he recognized the unadulterated simplicity and purity that he strove for in his art," writes Mary Chan in the catalogue.

World War I brought together a group of artists in Paris who found themselves in the forefront of the avant-garde, surrounded by an unstable, disoriented world governed by destruction and uncertainty. This "visual disorientation" characterized the art they created and rendered the world it portrayed unreal.

Duchamp, Picasso and Gris occupied studios in Montmartre for the first part of the century: they were joined by the prodigious talents of Derain and Modigliani. Montparnasse also drew these artists, together with De Chirico, Léger and Mondrian, and they worked within a few blocks of one another. "La Ruche" housed the studios of Archipenko, Chagall, Delaunay, Laurens, Léger, Lipchitz and Soutine; the mind boggles at such a confluence of talent and creativity - "Collaboration was an essential component of innovation", writes Sara Ganz in her catalogue essay, "Unreal City." and continues "Although extremely varied in technique and intent, all of these images refer ultimately to the architecture and structure of the metropolis," she added.

De Chirico's "Gare Montparnasse (The Melancholy Departure), circa 1941, and Henri Matisse's "View of Notre Dame," 1914, manipulate perspective, according to Ganz, "obscuring and dramatically exaggerating its illusionistic strategies. Created in his studio (De Chirico's) near the Gare Montparnasse, the paintings' foreboding, shadowed passages and empty, elongated street emphasize the uncanny desolation of an abandoned city and its deserted train station. Perspective is used to create what appears to be a plausible notion of reality, but closer inspection shows a very puzzling scene whose composition is illogical."

Robert Delaunay's "Windows," 1912, Marcel Duchamp's "Network Of Stoppages," 1914, Piet Mondrian's "Color Planes in Oval," 1913-1914, reflect the disorientation brought on by the War, and more specifically the need for a new language in which to portray the challenges to security and structure, a language which could pictorially represent an "unreal world", as expressed by Fernand Léger, who is magnificently represented by "Propellers" (1918).

"A new criterion has appeared in response to a new state of things. Innumerable examples of rupture and change crop up unexpectedly in our visual awareness," Ganz wrote." Of Marcel Duchamp's extraordinary "Network of Stoppages", which looks as if it might have been created today, she observed that "by destabilizing pictorial meanings, these works, which were inspired by the immediate urban environment, describe a world ungrounded and unintelligible."

Crossing the Atlantic, away from war torn Europe, we find still photographs from the very first silent "westerns," those wonderful, dream-laden "movies" made by the legendary American directors John Ford, William S. Hart and Howard Hawks. As my parents were passionate "Western" fans, I grew up in India in the 1960s on a diet of John Wayne, Clint Eastwood and Gay Cooper as the rugged, shoot-from-the-hip heroes of the untamed American West, and like millions of movie-goers around the world, the Western landscape was as familiar to me as my own garden, without ever having set foot in America. I cannot imagine my childhood without those landscapes and those dreams, and for any devotee of this genre, the "stills" represented in the exhibition and the catalogue are both historical documents of America's incredible history and, more personally, a rare treat. It is reassuring to note that the Museum of Modern Art has preserved these gems in its great "movie" archive for future generations to look back on and enjoy.

Mary Lea Brandt writes eloquently in her catalogue essay, "The American Place" that "The uncontrollable forces of weather and shifts of time in the turning of the earth - sunrise, high-noon, and sunset - enforce the Western's defining characteristics of passage or stasis, fear and aloneness." "A moral universe, at once exotic and familiar, reveals itself in steep canyons and across rivers, over mountains and through deserts as the journey through one or other moment of the American past takes hold. For the Western is inseparable from America's history; accordingly it is beset by contradiction and often vain attempts at realism," Ms. Brandt wrote.

The "frontier" closed in 1893, coinciding with the appearance of the first "motion pictures," one becoming the subject for the other. Edwin S. Porter's film "The Great Train Robbery" was shot at Thomas Edison's studio in New York and along the Lackawanna Railway in New Jersey: it was eleven minutes long and included a hugely popular scene of a gunman firing directly at the audience, puffs of smoke everywhere, inducing the audience to duck. It is easy to imagine how the man who had invented the telephone, the light bulb and wax paper (amongst numerous other useful things) might delight in all the shooting and fighting and other carryings - on being captured in his studio by this exciting new photographic medium.

By 1910, films like John Ford's "Straight Shooting" lengthened to the almost "feature" length of 55 minutes long, paving the way for Raoul Walsh's "The Big Trail" in 1930, a full feature length "epic" photographed on location for wide screen and sound, the director and cameraman using Twentieth Century Fox's 70mm Grandeur process to capture the broad, panoramic sweep of the Sierra Nevadas, the pioneers merely specs in the vast landscape. The hero was John Wayne. It would not be out of place to say that the rest is history, and that never has a "place" become so internationally well-known and beloved as the American West, for all the hours of joy it has brought as the backdrop to some of the finest films ever made. The "Western" has always had universal appeal, as the last place a human being could go who values the freedom of space, big skies and spirit, even if only from a comfortable armchair at home.

The historical period covered by this exhibition was perhaps history's most creative assault on the frontiers of art and intellectuality. These borders of the unknown and the unpredictable were and are fascinating. Landscape interests us because it helps to specify our place in the greater scheme of things and this exhibition is appropriately awesome and spectacular and mind-boggling.



November 21, 1999-March 14, 2000


Entrance to Things Exhibition on main floor at MOMA

Entrance on main floor to the exhibition is boldly colored with work by Michael Craig-Martin consisting of computer-generated images, acrylic house paint

By Carter B. Horsley

The third and last part of ModernStarts is "Things," and its entrance installation, shown above by Michael Craig-Martin proclaims it boldly with very bright colored walls and computer-generated images of prosaic 20th Century objects, an apparent homage to MOMA's famous design department that has long honored the best in domestic and industrial design. Craig-Martin's installation, however, despite its prominent site on the museum's main floor, is a bit garish and cannot compare artistically to the entrance installations of "People" and "Places" and on the above floors.

Much of this exhibit is given over to a series of chairs and a series of guitars and a series of still life paintings and only the latter contains substantial art. Chairs have occupied a disproportionate amount of design attention in the 20th Century and with rare exceptions, such as those by Charles Rennie Macintosh and Gerrit Rietveld, have not produced many wonders especially in comparison with the florid glories of Louis XIV style furniture or the sculptural intricacies of John Henry Belter slipper chairs of the mid-19th Century. Inexplicably, some excellent Art Nouveau furniture and objects by Hector Guimard, the great Art Nouveau designer, are consigned to the "Places" section of the exhibition and really belong in this section as do many other Art Nouveau works.

The series on guitars at least includes some paintings of guitars that bring some Cubist relief.

Picabia painting

Large oil on canvas by Francis Picabia not included in catalogue

Perhaps the biggest surprise of this section is a large and powerful painting shown above by Francis Picabia that is not documented in the catalogue. The best art work in this part of the exhibition in unquestionably Kurt Schwitters large "Revolving," shown below, a masterful 1919 work of great color and fascinating combination and a far cry in scale from the artist's more familiar small collages.

Revolving by Kurt Schwitters

"Revolving," by Kurt Schwitters, relief construction of wood metal, cord cardboard, wool, wire, leather and oil on canvas, 48 3/8 by 35 inches, 1919, MOMA

The second most interesting thing is Marcel Duchamp's delightful "To Be Looked At (From the Other Side of the Glass) with One Eye, Close To for Almost an Hour" by Marcel Duchamp, oil paint silver leaf, lead wire and magnifying lens on glass (cracked), 19 1/2 by 15 5/8 inches, 1918. While Duchamp is revered for his intellectuality and boldness, many of his works of art such as this as the painting illustrated above in the "People" section are very beautiful.

Marcel Duchamp glass sculpture

"To Be Looked At (From the Other Side of the Glass) with One Eye, Close To for Almost an Hour" by Marcel Duchamp, oil paint silver leaf, lead wire and magnifying lens on glass (cracked), 19 1/2 by 15 5/8 inches, 1918, MOMA, Katherine S. Dreier Bequest

Of course, this section also includes Marcel Oppenheim's "Object (Le Dejeuner en forrure)," his famous fur-covered cup and saucer of 1936, one of the most legendary Surrealist objects. It is surprising that more Surrealist works are not included in this section, which devotes much space to typographic experiments notably by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti and Fernand Léger, both of 1919.

The catalogue's cover illustration is "Bosch," a 1914 lithograph by Lucien Bernhard of an advertisement for a sparkplug that predates Pop Art by half a century.

One wall of this section of the exhibition has four similar still lifes of fruit on a table by Paul Cezanne, the best of which is "Still Life with fruit Dish," 1879-80, a fractional gift of Mr. and Mrs. David Rockefeller.

One gets the impression that the massive undertaking of this resorting of the museum's collection ran out of steam in this section. Nonetheless, one can only applaud the museum's very serious endeavor to experiment with its exhibition policies and efforts to present many of its treasures in new light.

The old-fashioned, chronological approach to presentation still is perhaps the most meaningful as it helps visitors understand historical and stylistic contexts and to make comparisons with rival, competing contemporary artists. The thematic approach is probably best served by smaller shows concentrating on just a handful of works.


See The City Review article on "Making Choices," the second part of this three-part exhibition

See The City Review article on "Open Ends," the third part of this three-part exhibition

See The City Review article on MOMA's planned expansion


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