Exhibition Inquisition

The stuff you look at, but don't see.

Collection: MOCA’s First Thirty Years

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Museum of Contemporary Art

Right in time for its 30th anniversary, MOCA presents Collection: MOCA’s First Thirty Years, on view through May 3, 2010.  The exhibition celebrates MOCA’s collection in a big way: more than 500 works by more than 200 artists.  Collection also takes up a lot of real estate and is spread out between MOCA’s two downtown locations. This is why this inquisition will be dished out in two parts.  Beginning at Grand Avenue with the 1940s and Abstract Expressionism, the show is organized chronologically. The show continues at the Geffen Contemporary with art from the previous 30 years (check back for part two).

Not only is MOCA showing its much bragged about permanent collection, it actually provides some informative/educational wall texts, or as close to informative/educational wall texts as MOCA would go.  Throughout the many galleries, the curators have integrated quotations from the artists on display. The quotes range from remarks on art theory to explanations about artistic process.

The show is curated using several tactics. Two of these tactics were creations of suites of a single artists work, and another was the system of juxtaposing a series of a single artist’s photographs with a sculpture.  This second tactics was my favorite and used twice with very successful results.

Suite no. 1: Rothko

The first suite of artist work was given to Rothko, a venerable chapel had been created for the massive abstract expressionist pieces.  The curators also utilized temporary architectural elements to their advantage in this space (and throughout) to separate rooms into sections, but more importantly to highlight through framing particular works.  This was used in the following gallery for a Pollock.

Savanna scene—Kline suite

The second major artist suite was organized for Franz Kline. I’ve never seen Kline hung in such a serial way. I didn’t particularly enjoy the suite because it began to look like a herd of zebra.

Forgot to snap a picture, Frank and Chamberlain

Then came a room which was installed using the second tactic: the juxtaposition of a photographic series and a sculpture.  This one combined a series of photographs from Robert Frank’s The Americans series with the metal sculpture Rayvredd by John Chamberlain.  Unfortunately I didn’t manage to snap a picture of this room’s installation, so I made a poor mock-up in my favorite program Microsoft paint.  I like this room not just because I am insanely fond about Robert Frank (yes I own the expanded edition of The Americans exhibition catalogue) but because the combination of a multiplicity of photos compared to a single unique, seemingly irreproducible sculpture made me think on implications of media and display of various kinds of media.

Rauschenbergs large and small, this one, “Coca Cola Plan,” small.

This room was followed but another large suite containing MOCA’s extensive collection of varying and impressive Rauschenberg combines.  The spacing in this room was effective in that it allowed for a consideration of individual works while still making obvious the trends in Rauschenberg’s work.

Works from “The Store” on the wall and on a stage

Another room that operated similarly in contrasting sculpture and painting was the room with the Oldenberg sculptures from The Store.  These garishly painted works were mounted from the walls (like paintings) and set up on a kind of stage that separated them from the viewer’s space.  The paintings in this room were Warhol and Lichtenstein.  MOCA presented one of each from its own collection; both were in black and white.  But full-color works from these two painters were also displayed, a Warhol Campbell Soup Can, and Lichtenstein’s I…I’m Sorry, both borrowed from the Broad Art Foundation.

Broadworks filling the gaps.

Wait a second; I thought this show presented works from the permanent collection, to the Broad collection!  These two works filled a gap perhaps in MOCA’s collection. (A similar gap must also be in LACMA’s collection since these two works were also borrowed in the inaugural installation of BCAM).

Then came the long corridor.  I’ve seen photographs displayed in this space before, but I sadly ignored most of them once I saw what was at the end of the corridor.  The florescent bulbs of Flavin’s monument for V. Tatlin beckoned me to the end of the corridor; making breeze past what I’m sure was a treasure trove of photography.  Flavin’s work really got me going.

Light at the end of the tunnel, Flavin’s "monument for V. Tatlin"

Once I was at the Flavin I realized I’d made my way to a kind of halfway point, since I’d been through half of the cycle of room at Grand Ave. There is a definite suggested route throughout these galleries, counterclockwise following the canon of contemporary art chronologically.

Unframed room

In another room were works all without frames, yes frames my other obsession.  The works in this room were by Frank Stella, Bridget Riley, Jo Baer, and Elaine Sturtvant.  All of the works were without frames, for various reasons. (I imagine it would be hard to find or created a frame to accommodate the curvilinear sides of Stella’s work.)  All of these painting were humungous which made it hard for any one of them to dominate the space.  This equality was created by the paintings’ demand for equal amounts of attention.

Shoe self-reflection, Smithson’s “Mirage No. 1”

MOCA aside from the major suites also created mini-suites of a single artist’s work.  Two mini-suites were organized for Diane Arbus photographs and another for Smithson works.  The Arbus mini-suite contained photographs mostly of pairings of people which was a selective decision on the curator’s part.  The Smithson mini-suite showed the variety of media Smithson worked in, from sketches of spiral cinnabars to the row of mirrors hung at floor-level, Mirage No. 1.

I didn’t want to remove my shoes, so I didn’t go in, but I could have, and so can you.

The MOCA press release for Collection also mentions a series of special installations.  One such installation was Doug Wheeler’s RM 669.  A gallery attendant had a constant vigil to remind visitors to remove their shoes before entering the ghostly/heavenly space.  Other light and space works were near by which were combined with finish fetish works.  I had never realized that the two movements aesthetic both rely on perfection of execution to be really effective.

Cross-town connection, Baltz’s Industrial Parks

A series of photographs I didn’t ignore or rush by was Lewis Baltz, his series of structures from Industrial Parks near Irvine.  The photos were familiar to me since I had just seen some of them at LACMA in the New Topographics show.  LACMA displayed far fewer than MOCA does.  I think I favor MOCA’s display because it is so much larger showing how extensive the series really was.

I saw, I smelled, but I did not taste

Another special recreated installation was Ed Ruscha’s Chocolate Room.  I’m a fan of having my senses (beyond sight) engaged when I visit museums.  I like hearing a work of art from rooms away and then gradually finding my way to it.  Ruscha’s work engaged another sense, smell.  The smell of chocolate wafted through the galleries leading me to the chocolate covered papered walls of Ruscha’s installation.  It reminded me of Dieter Roth’s Chocolate Lion Tower that was in LACMA’s Art of the Two Germanys exhibition where you smelled the artwork before you saw it.  Both Chocolate Lion Tower and Chocolate Room turned a chalky white once the chocolate began to oxidize in the gallery spaces.  The gross white layer was the only thing keeping me from licking the walls.

Sexy room, Goldin above and Kusama below.

Another room installed using the tactics of photography series and sculpture combination was a small room hung with a fascinatingly sexy display of Nan Goldin photographs and a Yayoi Kusama sculpture.  The work on the walls and the phallic sculpture on the floor made this intimate room feel scandalous, but in a subtle way that I enjoyed. It was probably the smallest room, and also the room I spent the most time in.

Mendietta Silueta Suite.

A final suite was organized for Eva Mendietta.  The two walls of photographs of her her siluetas were the last thing I saw before I was scurried out the door at closing time.  I managed to see everything (some things were more actually browsed) in part one of Collection.  I must say bravo to MOCA for organizing this show (whatever the reasons).  MOCA constantly brags about its monumental permanent collection, but rarely shows it. Well, MOCA finally is actually showing it.

– H.I.

P.S. Check back for part 2, the Geffen Contemporary portion of Collection.

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