There’s just been an announcement that the Museum of Modern Art in New York has rehung ‘a full third of its collection….the Art of the Internet Age Takes Center Stage’. Well, welcome to our world ma’am, we hope you are going to feel comfortable here.
Watch out Mr Picasso. You are no longer king of this particular castle – ELS
The announcement also tells one that: ‘The museum has aimed to move into a new era in which distinguishes between high and low and between artistic mediums have eroded.’ So watch out, Mr Picasso, you are no longer going to be king of this particular castle – and that also applies to Jackson Pollock, the key figure who helped to establish America’s post-war hegemony in the avant-garde visual arts.
‘Emblematic of the museum’s endeavour overall is gallery 209, a mini-exhibition titled “Search Engines” on the second floor, which houses art from 1970 to the present. Including works from the first two decades of the new millennium, it focuses on the historic 1998 launch of Google.’
Lanka Tattersall, one of the curators of the new displays, had this to add;
‘The Googleverse, where you have an endless stream of information at your fingertips …makes the whole world kind of a readymade.’
Not having seen the entire rehang, which occupies one-third of MOMA’s sixty galleries, I can only guess at the full effect. However, some things seem to stand out. One is that the displays are very much linked to up-to-the-minute technology – it seems doubtful if the Third World gets much of a look in. When it does, the world of Western technology is still present by proxy. There is, for example, a woven, wall-hung work that reproduces a receipt from a Mexican department store’.
Another is that traditional aesthetic values, already much challenged by Modernist ideas – think, for example of Duchamp, are almost absent from what is on display. These are symbolic objects meant to challenge viewers’ perceptions about the world they inhabit. Ironically enough, you might almost describe them as totems, where any overtly aesthetic element is irrelevant and contrary to their creators’ intentions. Which, in turn, paradoxically suggests that the institution displaying them is a temple, just as much as the soaring cathedrals of the past. You go there to be purged of your bad intentions, not for any kind of thrill.
The objects are there as icons representing a supposedly liberal system of values. Liberal, nevertheless, in a topsy-turvy way. Liberals now live in a world of moral disapproval, different from, but nevertheless in some respects resembling, the moralistic social system that prevailed in much of the English-speaking world of the mid-19th century—no longer focused on sex, and sexual behaviour, but on things such as what you eat, and what you wear. And also on wrongs inherited from the past.
The further paradox is that the material universe that supports these beliefs is inherently fragile and subject to rapid change, which is the inevitable result of having, as Tattersall suggests, ‘the world at your fingertips’ in the Googleverse. One thing is certain about many of the things now on display in MOMA’s re-edited displays: very soon, they will look out of date. The technological universe has a huge appetite for devouring its children. It does this more and more rapidly, even as we look. Out of date, technology sometimes has a sentimental appeal, but I doubt if that is what today’s curators want to deliver. This is a situation that embraces the future but has no future.
Words/Top Photo © Artlyst 2020