In the center of the second floor atrium of the Museum of Modern Art stands a microphone. Above it on the wall are Yoko Ono's instructions to scream into the microphone.
Now, this placement might seem a rather arch period ending the long silent sentence of Marina Abramovic's recent performance in the same space, and, at the opening the other night for what was MoMA deputy director Kathy Halbreich's debut selection from the museum's permanent collection, visitors dutifully screamed into the microphone. Loving karaoke, I could not bypass the opportunity to sing into the mike and burdened revelers such as Keith Sonnier, AA Bronson and Glenn Lowry (dressed in a black, skintight Bela Lugosi outfit) with an a cappella version of the Sammy Cahn lounge classic, "How Little We Know." ("How little we know, how much to discover, what chemical forces flow from lover to lover, etc.").
Halbreich's show, which purports to examine issues of gender, political unrest and other agitprop, could use some color and brio, frankly. Visually it comes across as a gray miasma reaching its black hole in Cady Noland's famous dark aluminum cutout of Patty Hearst in her role as the brainwashed, gun-toting "Tanya" of SLA notoriety. I was having too good a time with swells like the new art-world It Girl Sarah Goulet, PR ingenue of Pace Gallery, on a cool night in MoMA's garden to suffer the down vibe of Halbreich's exhibition.
I have been going to such visually stultified selections from MoMA's permanent collection for 50 years and this one seemed particularly hypocritical and offensive. Here's why: there is a seamless affinity between the left-wing neo-Marxian propaganda of the art that MoMA collects and the diktat by fiat of the Bloombergian real estate expansions, bad architectural choices and plutocratic economic domination in civic life of the rich criminals on MoMA's board.
In a just realm, the left-wing sentiments permeating Halbreich's humorless show would cause museum visitors to make citizen's arrests of the shameless billionaires on MoMA's board, instead of bowing like minions to our "betters." Instead, we are ordered to scream and do so on cue. Sing a song instead, when you go over to MoMA, OK?
"Contemporary Art from the Collection," June 30, 2010-Sept. 12, 2011, at the Museum of Modern Art, 11 West 53rd Street, New York, N.Y. 10019.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).