Explaining Art Ruins It

“Out of Time” seems out of step

After recently perusing The MoMA’s third annual re-hanging of it’s contemporary galleries, a show called “Out of Time,” I was left feeling disappointed, unfulfilled, empty—words such as static, boring, and affect less came to mind. Is this really the state of current art? Time is an interesting subject, though not necessarily the subject of important art.

To paraphrase a recent conceptual artist, “explaining art ruins it.” I did not read the wall text hoping to “understand” the museums curatorial point of view. I experienced the show by simply wandering through the exhibit viewing the art and looking at the audience’s possible reactions to the works. Dreary, suspended, colorless, void; If this is a metaphor for the world’s current state—war, terrorism, famine, genocide—I don’t feel “Out of Time” does it justice. And if it is simply art for art’s sake, why do I feel so left out?

I have always been a fan of so called boring art, minimalism, and conceptualism. Show me a Carl Andre lead floor piece, or an Agnes Martin pencil grid painting and I am completely satisfied. But something about this art doesn’t have the weight of that.

Upon entering the show Andy Warhol’s “Empire” (1964) is projected, an eight-hour movie of a single unmoving image of the Empire State Building, as day imperceptibly turns to night. This piece looks like an absolute masterpiece as one starts viewing the rest of the show. Andy is the granddaddy of so-called boring art. He stated that the surface was everything, with nothing behind it. But his important work throughout the museum and particularly on the fourth floor (“Gold Marilyn,” “Campbell Soup Cans,” “Orange Car Crash”) looks as fresh today as they must have in the ‘60s. There is shock, surprise, color, and questioning here. Not simply a concept dumbed down.

Individually some of the pieces in this show are strong. Philip-Lorca di Corcia’s “Head #10” (2000) color print is up to his usual high standards. Also notable are Cai Guo Qiang’s gunpowder drawing, Mona Hatoum’s sand sculpture, and several videos that straddle the divide between entertainment and art. Gerhard Richter’s famous suite of paintings “October 18, 1977” is also included, a series of dark gray and black representations of faces and everyday objects depicting news photos of allegedly murdered German terrorists, these paintings left me with an overall feeling of anxiety, apprehension, sadness, and stasis.

The epitome of this show is Martin Creed’s 2000 piece “Work #277 The Lights Going On and Off.” Here the title is literally what is going on in the piece with the lights in the gallery going on and off at 10 second intervals. This work caused me to appreciate the exit sign in the gallery for its high artistic merit and a piece of masking tape on the floor of the adjacent gallery as a work of art. “The Emperor’s New Clothes” was brought to mind.

I am not enough of a philistine to ask if this is art. My question is, is this good or important art? For me the entire show is eclipsed by the grandeur, assurance, and maturity of the seven large Cy Twombly paintings, which are hanging directly outside the contemporary galleries in the Marron Atrium.

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