Of all the incredible art museums that New York City has to offer, the Museum of Modern Art is one that I had yet to see. Sunday afternoon, the day after I went to The Strand, I decided to rectify that, by making plans with my friend Valentina to peruse their art.
On the train platform there were many nervous, but eager, Sarah Lawrence first years on their way to get their feet wet in the city for the first time. I read my murder mystery book while I rode the train, which I thought was a romantic detail that I needed to share with you all.
I met Valentina in front of the MoMA, where we sat outside drinking and talking in the garden for the first 45 minutes. Vintage cars were on display around the reflecting pool, which was funded by, like most of the city, a Rockefeller. Valentina has been to the MoMA often, to study and enjoy the artwork, since she lives close by, and could tell me in great detail the stories behind the permanent exhibits. The MoMA was expanded into an adjacent building, but wasn’t able to have a grand unveiling due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
We walked the exhibits with her telling me which paintings were done by the spouses of other, much better famous painters (apparently the spouses of people like Pollack made artwork as well). We made fun of art history students who think that all paintings featuring female nudity degrade women in some way. She explained to me the politics behind several pieces.
She showed me a wonderful Matisse that she loved that was scraps of paper cut and attached to the wall, making up a beautiful scene of blue ocean water. I, however, started to see other images in the cut-out pieces of paper. A few were mountains, one was a cat, and one was the guy that slips and falls on wet floor signs.
We didn’t love every piece of art we saw. There was a chair that was, quite literally, made up of penises. All I can say is that this type of artwork is exactly what conservative middle America thinks contemporary art is and according to the MoMA, they’re not wrong. This led to a series of tasteless jokes because that chair was a never ending barrage of innuendo. Valentina said, “that piece of art should be named ‘How many is too many?’” I said, “that gives the phrase ‘to sit on a dick’ new meaning” and “that chair looks really stiff.”
There was an Ives Klein we saw that Valentina knew quite well from her time in Nice. I also knew about Ives Klein and his influence since there is a famous, allegorical story about him. Basically, Ives Klein wanted to capture this perfect shade of blue on camera, so he leapt off a wall into the air and snapped the photo in midair before he hit the ground. Since his body was going to smack onto the pavement, most likely resulting in a minimum of a few broken ribs, the story was viewed as a radical example of an obsessive artist, but also as a perfect metaphor for how you have to be all in when it comes to pursuing art.
The picture of him leaping into the air was titled “Leap of Faith,” but what many do not realize is that in the original photograph, he actually had friends of his standing beneath him, ready to catch him. I like that version better, because it captures the idea of leaping out haphazardly in the name of art, but still having a support system there to catch you.
In the end, Yves Klein managed to capture the shade of blue, still referred to to this day as “Yves Klein Blue,” and Valentina and I were able to see the piece of artwork labeled “Yves Klein Blue.”
In a weirdly serendipitous turn of events, I put my Starry Night poster up on my wall the night before our trip to MoMA. The very next day, I stood about a foot away from the actual Starry Night painting by Vincent Van Gogh. I wasn’t aware that it was at the MoMA when I made plans to go with Valentina. In an amazing turn of events, I stood in front of it, getting extremely giddy, much to the amusement of Valentina.
The fact that I even bought a print of Starry Night in the first place was auspicious. I had read a quote from Van Gogh in which he stated that “he didn’t know much but looking at the stars made him dream.” I decided that if I ever felt upset at night, I would take wisdom from Vincent, and step outside to look at the stars until I felt better. That night I stood in the parking lot of my building and despite the light pollution, managed to stare at the night sky until a few of them emerged. The very next day, I saw a giant print of the painting being sold on campus and took it as a sign that I needed to have it.
Valentina told me that when the pandemic first broke out, she went to the MoMA, which was deserted, and spent an hour staring at “Starry Night” all by herself, getting misty-eyed in its presence. I have never been so jealous of another person’s experience with a piece of art.
There’s so much that I couldn’t tell about these world famous pieces of art, until I was directly in front of them. I was surprised by how mesmerizing Pollock’s drip paintings are and how you can stare at each individual line like it’s a string that needs to be untangled. I also didn’t know how Monet’s paintings somehow look like they are ten different paint colors layered on top of one another. I am also now convinced that I spotted a small mistake in “Starry Night,” because there is a reddish brown drop of paint amongst the blue where it doesn’t belong. I checked my print in my dorm room, when I got back and it isn’t there.
We passed through a public park that Valentina loves, also brought to us by the Rockefellers, then headed to an early dinner. We ended the day by eating Greek food, lamb with lemon potatoes and pizza with chicken and spinach, discussing once again our thoughts on our school and what we thought about our outing to the museum. It was a dreamy day in which I got to see the works of Rothko, Kahlo, Matisse, Picasso, Warhol, and other artists from romantic times in art history.
We discussed the need to venture over to the Whitney on another day, but for now I will enjoy the glorious images of the greats that I saw.
The Tragic Queen,