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The Museum of Modern Art, July 2005

Auguste Rodins Monument to Balzac (1894, cast 1954) in the MoMA lobby

Paul Cézanne (left) and Camille Pissarro

Lee Friedlanders portraits of Aretha Franklin (1968), Carl Perkins (1960s) and Miles Davis (1969), installed at MoMA

David Vestal
Grant Park, Jackson Street, Chicago, Illinois
Robert Mann Gallery

The Irving Penn gallery in MoMAs photo department, with portraits of Truman Capote (1965) and Barnett Newman (1966)

The Hollow Museum
by Charlie Finch

We were sitting in the Museum of Modern Art garden last week with a curator friend from Hamburg trying to assimilate the new Museum of Modern Art, and failing.

"One still cant get used to Monets Water Lilies as wallpaper for cocktail parties," we remarked.

"I was always so inspired by the old Water Lilies sitting room," Catarina replied. "It was meditative. It energized me before I returned to the streets of New York."

Ghosts of the old MoMA, ever fading, continued to intrude on the cold, plutocratic expansion before us.

"Its the height of arrogance," we continued, "to install Rodins Balzac and Newmans Broken Obelisk indoors like trophies of the rich."

Balzac was always the gatekeeper for the MoMA garden, its humble yet noble patina changing with the weather, and Broken Obelisk, formerly shoehorned into the garden rear, loses its meaning indoors: the broken finger of the creator god touching mans in an age of doubt.

Of course, one cant even enjoy the majestic horizontal view of the MoMA garden anymore without copping a reservation at the chic restaurant, which now aligns with it.

Gazing at the large photograph of artful grungemates Cézanne and Pissarro, gruffly bearded and chapeaued, we thought, "they wouldnt let these two hippie bastards into the restaurant, either."

Another mark of the money-lined lethargy of MoMA 2000 are the dull, enervating exhibitions currently on view. Si Newhouse cruising around in a gray jungle jacket, fab red tennis shirt and slippers was by far the most visually striking sight at the "Cézanne/Pissarro" opening. Theres nothing like a bland "compare and contrast" snore of Pre-Impressionist landscapes to further depress collector zeal for Impressionism.

The photography department, under the previously astute Peter Galassi, is quite a puzzlement. Lee Friedlander, a 20th-century snapper more celebrated for his political connections in the photography world than his actual talent, is given the full-blown treatment and falls flat.

Friedlanders cityscapes, infected by sameness, expire next to similar themes by William Eggleston or Stephen Shore, or for that matter, David Vestal, whose seminal New York City postwar shots can be had for as little as $300. Vestal, still active at 80, would better deserve the Galassi touch.

Friedlanders self-portraits are just plug ugly. The only mildly arresting stuff here is Friedlanders color album covers of Miles Davis and Aretha.

Somebody named Frank Gohlke is also showing pictures of Mt. Saint Helens. Skip it.

Galassi has retweaked the photo dept. permanent collection with hall of fame/greatest hits-style walls devoted to Atget, Arbus, etc. While its grand to see Irving Penns raffish snap of John Marin, the whole effect is just as cheesy as the new president of MoMA, Marie Josée Kravis, and the other cultural losers who now oversee the former temple of modernism.

The problem with wishing for the demise of these wealthy cheeseballs is that theyve rigged everything to take us down with them. Destroying the intimacy, respect for art, sense of adventure and grand amateurism of MoMA should damn them to hell forever.

CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).