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April 21, 2006

Sneak Preview : The new Installation of MOMA's Atrium Gallery

TGIF everyone!!  As always the impatient observer.. MAO was snooping around MOMA yesterday.
Here's a photo of the Jennifer Bartlett's Rhapsody, 1976 (a story about it) work being installed in MOMA's main atrium gallery as part of this up coming "Against the Grain: Contemporary Art from the Edward R. Broida Collection" show.

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The "Rhapsody" painting is composed of 987 painted steel panels, each 12 x 12 inches. It fills 153 running feet of wall space and wraps the entire atrium.

It was once called by John Russell of the NYT, "The most ambitious single work of new art that had come his way since he started to live in NY"

Well.. Honestly, it's sad to say, but the work didn't look much better in person than it does in my lame ass photo.  Maybe it's the size of the space, volume, height, intense bright light, etc.. But, After reading so much about this work.. I was expecting to be impressed.. It looks flat, and unexciting. Well then again, maybe I'm just a jaded New Yorker!

Hopefully the rest of the amazing Broida gift (175 works) will be more impressMoma_signive.

The new exhibit opens May 3rd!

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To be continued: http://hirsute.hautetfort.com

No, you're right, it is lame. Jennifer hasn't had any real bite in quite a while now. I'd like to thinks she's not in her Frank Stella mid-career slump, but this photo isn't encouraging evidence for the defense.

The MoMA atrium may be part of the problem. It makes even large scale works look puny and unimpressive. I'll bet this looked better in a gallery setting.

I liked it. It's a nice use of the atrium until they put the permanent Richard Serra sculpture in the space.

The Museum of Modern Art's atrium, one of New York's most spectacular new spaces, has been filled, tamed, and gloriously enhanced by the additional of Jennifer Bartlett's monumental achievement, "Rhapsody." MOMA would be foolish to ever take it down; it has a new "Waterlilys" on its hands.

The atrium, the core of Yoshio Taneguchi's spectacular reinvention of MOMA, has had problems since the day it was unveiled. Designed both as the focal point of the museum, and a place to display art, most of the works that were placed there emerged diminished. Its center is well-anchored by Barnett Newman's massive sculpture "Broken Obelisk." However, its three massive walls had proven impervious to conventional hangings. Monet's "Waterlilys," beloved by generations of visitors to MOMA, were hung there when the museum reopened in the fall of 2004. They were quickly moved elsewhere after having been dwarfed and diminished by the huge space's lack of intimacy. Since then, the museum has tried placing a number of other works there. But, as Arthur Danto wrote at the time of the opening: "None of the paintings currently on view there really stand up to the pressure the atrium exerts, even if they fare better than the Monet. Brice Marden's calligraphy and Jasper Johns's Untitled look drab and drained by all that space and light, and Willem de Kooning's Pirate, for all its bright hues, is outmatched by the architecture..." Danto's observation has remained correct. Until now.

"Rhapsody," a single work completed in 1976, consisting of paintings on 987 one foot square metal plates, and filling 153 running feet of wall space, is Bartlett's Sistine Chapel ceiling. In it, the 35 year old Yale M.F.A., displayed the results of her, and her generation's, epic internal battles between the prevailing orthodoxies of Minimalism and Conceptualism, and the desire to move beyond them. As Roberta Smith put it in her essay "The Story of the Mind in Action," it is "novelistic, encyclopedic, fugal, operatic, and, well, rhapsodic...not a painting, but a treatise on painting, or the possibilities of painting."

And, in my opinion, just as Jasper Johns' Flag and Target paintings facilitated the transition from Abstract Expressionism to Pop Art and beyond, "Rhapsody" was the bridge that helped return the painting of recognizable images to the forefront of contemporary art. To quote Smith, again, "'Rhapsody's' prescience covers a lot of ground. The ultimate homage to laissez-faire '70's pluralism--it can be seen to span New Imagery painting, Narrative art, Pattern and Decoration--yet it is also proto-Postmodern. It pinpoints issues, devices and strategies that were barely gleams in younger artists' eyes at the time, but are ubiquitous now. Among these are the renewed contest between abstraction and representation, the resurgence of subject matter...a collagelike juxtaposition of images from high and popular culture alike. It also predicts the wide-scale infiltration of photography into painting, raising the issues (and techniques) of appropriation, illustration, and copying, and delving into what is now called the "image bank" of mass culture."

"Rhapsody," which was recently donated to MOMA, works on two, almost cinematic, levels: in the "long shot," and in "close up." It looks spectacular from afar--and there are literally scores of ways it can be seen from throughout the museum--and, up close, it often calls for, and rewards, inch-by-inch scrutiny.

The subject of a 1985 book by Harry N. Abrams, "Rhapsody" is a major addition to New York City's cultural riches. And, in case MOMA doesn't take my suggestion to keep it hanging forever, it will be on view until at least July 10th.

Thanks Morton for the very long comment.

Is that a story you're writing for some publication?

You're welcome.

I wrote the comment to send to a number of friends, after seeing "Rhapsody" again, last Friday. I've seen it in a number of places over the years, including the Walker, the Brooklyn Museum, and, most unfortunately, in the old Robert Miller Gallery in 1999, and, it has never looked better than it does, now, in MOMA's atrium.

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