I was chatting with the painters Bobby Goldman and David Diao in the lobby of the Museum of Modern Art a few nights ago. You did not have to wander far to experience MoMA's sharp curatorial edge. Right in the lobby stood Ann Temkin, next to two of her smallest but most gorgeous projects, terraria by the artist Paula Hayes.
These vibrant gardens are living environments for the mating of a hermaphroditic sea slug, a shimmering array of plants and earth, encased in fluted, smoky glass. Like Ann Temkin, in her sensible sharply cut dark gray clothes, these pieces are focused, dynamic and always impressive in their formal rigor. I've known Paula since she showed at the great Fawbush Gallery 20 years ago and continue to marvel at the arc of her art-gardening career.
What other artist has her own terrarium studio on 13th Street between Avenues A and B? The perfect destination for your holiday needs.
As I have mentioned before, the MoMA experience today is about visual suprises in hidden places. You may go there for Ann Temkin's Ab Ex survey show, but don't miss the small Pop installation on the fourth floor, with the complete Warhol soup cans, a Double Elvis and half a dozen other classics.
Another amazement, off the third floor escalator is a pumpkin pink, Abstract Expressionist gem of a painting from 1960 called The Silent Valley of the Sunrise. You know who created it? Romare Bearden! How wonderful the Canal Street avatar, in such an unfamiliar, yet beautiful style.
The new sixth-floor MoMA exhibition, "On Line: Drawing through the 20th Century," is a daunting and often oppressive reduction of art into an argument between line as Platonic ideal and a concrete necessity of any artist's practice. In order not to exhaust your senses (Janis Gardner Cecil, the Marlborough Gallery director, laughingly admonished me, "Charlie, you will just have to come back half a dozen times to see it all!"), be selective in viewing this show. Look for Atsuko Tanaka's liberating video from the 1950s of her drawing perfect orbs in the sand, on the beach, with a stick.
There is a wall of almost Picabia-like doodles by Vasily Kandinsky which, collectively, refashion him as a minimalist. I didn't know that Ellen Gallagher worked in pink, but the large grid of flesh colored paint seen here is one of her best efforts. Ellen is an underappreciated genius of visual originality. Look for the Mondrian charcoal (1938-40) a small frieze of black shading and delicate line, as well as the bauble called, Dancer (1917) by the terpsichorist Nijinsky!
Finally, I was hoping to see Carolee Schneemann at the opening, after her recent trips to Ecuador and Winnipeg, but she wasn't there. Her seminal kinetic installation about the body as draw-stic, Up to and Including Its Limits, has its own corner in "OnLine," a belated, but necessary acknowledgment by MoMA of this fierce pioneer. May there be many more for her!
"On Line: Drawing through the 20th Century," Nov. 21, 2010-Feb. 7, 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).