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Museum of Modern Art


by Charlie Finch
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I went to the Museum of Modern Art on the last day of the Willem de Kooning show and found a number of art-world lifers, such as Jack Tilton and longtime Westbeth painter Arnold Wechsler, paying their respects. ("As usual, it's all about the art, Charlie," Jack smiled sadly).

I found the de Koonings to be more ancient, repetitive and claustrophobic than ever. His "allover" technique of repainting and erasure shoves the viewer forcibly out of the picture plane. Then I had a first look at MoMA chief curator Ann Temkin's much celebrated reinstallation of the contemporary collection, just off MoMA's second floor atrium. I grabbed a fistful of silver-wrapped Felix Gonzalez-Torres candy and poured it into my companion's pocketbook, remarking, "Here, you can take this piece to your class for your students!"

But that was all the candy to be found, for, per MoMA's rigid Eurocentric habits, where the dry candy of the mind is everything and what dazzles the eye is nothing, Temkin has hewed to the pretentious intellectualism of MoMA's contemporary "vision."

The same tiny dark Barbara Kruger and the same black polygons of Allan McCollum remain on the walls, augmented by an oppressive Dieter Roth leviathan of surveillance televisions, and the obligatory minor pieces by young "stars" Mark Bradford, Kelley Walker and Rachel Harrison. I was overjoyed to see one of Ashley Bickerton's prescient corporate logo trunks from the early 80s and depressed by another stupid block-print abortion from Christopher Wool.

Temkin's frigid brain continued to freeze in the icy hands of Andrea Zittel, given a refrigerator of her own, i.e. a personal white cube. For warmth, I turned to the best thing, by far, a spare gallery containing two classic Doris Salcedo concrete furniture memorials to the disappeared, with some of her drawings on the wall. The absent dead of South American drug wars breathe again through her glowing yet subdued sculpture.

Nevertheless, Temkin's effort is, in spite of what you read, what we have seen at MoMA curatorially since the 1970s -- arch, pointless and impotent gestures towards the shrinking cohort of the intelligentsia. The dull Brice Marden squiggly triptych, newly hung in the lobby, sums up MoMA's dire limitations: there is no joy in art, only a dull beating thud inside the head.

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