MOMA is Overrated

There is a notice in the legal notice in foyer stating that 1200 people in MOMA is “dangerous and illegal”. It must have been approaching those numbers on the day that I visited. There were so many people at MOMA crowding around those must see works of art and taking photos on their mobile phones that I had to consider the following questions:

If mass population is the definition of lowbrow then has MOMA made some modern art lowbrow? For example, has The Scream become lowbrow? (There is art in MOMA that has not become lowbrow, there were very few people looking at the works by Joseph Beuys.)

The Scream at MOMA

“I don’t know how I feel about my selfie right now.”
—overheard at the Museum of Modern Art in the room with Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” (Hyperallergic 17/5/13)

Does the game of life now score according to what photos you have on your iPhone? The 1001 works of art/buildings/places that you must see before you die. Do not do any of the 101 things you must do before you die because everyone else is doing them. Thousands of tourists trapped at Machu Picchu in late Jan 2010 and thousands more tourists line up to see Michelangelo’s David. Wouldn’t it be more meaningful to find a great artist who you have never heard of before?

MOMA is in a cultural feedback loop of its own construction since has MOMA defined modern art through its collection. The howl of this feedback loop echoes through Munch’s Scream and the packed galleries of MONA. “The accounts of the past are constructed out of facts gathered with the express purpose of bolstering this proposition, whose truth has become axiomatic. The accent is placed on the idea that New York art was crucial to the further development of all art the world over and, further, that it somehow emerged from the final phase of the long march towards a purified modern art. These histories of course subscribe to the formalist analysis proposed by Alfred Barr of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, an analysis championed by Clement Greenberg throughout his career.” (Serge Guilbaut, How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art Chicago, 1983, p.7)

The second floor of MOMA does have contemporary art exhibited but this is a limited space. I enjoyed contemporary art more in at the New Gallery in the Bowery, the National Gallery of Canada or the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. It was a better atmosphere to appreciate the art and the collections of contemporary art are just as good if not better.

MOMA starts modern art in the 1880s with Cézanne, Monet and van Gogh and ends it in the 1980s, rather arbitrary points, as modern art clearly started earlier and probably ended sooner. And there are some other serious gaps in MOMA’s collection, or at least the works on display. There no Basquiat and nothing from the Harlem Renaissance making me wonder if MOMA ignores black artists? It is all very white (see my upcoming post on European Art History’s Audience) except for the galley attendants who could probably trash any other gallery’s attendants in a game of basketball. There seemed to be other gaps in their German and English collection for example no Francis Bacon and no Neue Sachlichkeit paintings.

Claes Oldenburg's Mouse and Ray Gun Museums at MOMA

Claes Oldenburg’s Mouse and Ray Gun Museums at MOMA

I did enjoy the Claes Oldenburg exhibition that was on when I visited. I was particularly interested in the way that his Store works anticipated the contemporary interest in the “graffiti” and the “street”; these words were repeated in many of his works. But otherwise MONA is not a museum that I would consider visiting again, it is over-rated and over-crowded.

MOMA is not the most over-rated art museum that I have seen in this world; that honour must go MONA in Hobart. If MOMA is a greatest all time #1 hits compilation album then MONA in Hobart is a heavy metal compilation. (See my post on MONA.)

About Mark Holsworth

Arts administrator, artist, musician, philosopher and writer. Writes Black Mark - Melbourne Art and Culture Critic. View all posts by Mark Holsworth

10 responses to “MOMA is Overrated

  • Alister Karl

    I saw my first and only Gordon Matter Clark at Moma and that makes it OK with me :)

  • Tsvia Aran-Shapir

    The emperor is naked(!)…at last someone dares to speak up….
    thank u mark.

    • Mark Holsworth

      It is more like MOMA, the empress is powerless because of the huge crowds of supporters that surround her.

  • Craig

    It’s a bit hard for me to judge MOMA because when I went there the fourth floor was closed off. I certainly enjoyed the collections but if you asked me to pick a highlight it would be the chocolate tart I had at the cafe!

    I also picked a bad time to go to the Gugg, the spiral walkway was roped off while an exhibition was installed and the side galleries were intolerably crowded. Having just come from the high of visiting the Graffiti Hall Of Fame I was left with a similar sentiment to you that people should seek out art they truly love rather being told what to revere.

    • Mark Holsworth

      Floors or galleries being closed for installation is a regular hazard for all gallery visitors, always a shame but the Guggenheim does make an art of it. When I visited the Gugg in NYC the permanent collection was closed but at least I had access to all the spiral walkway. When I visited the Gugg in Bilboa the whole third floor was closed for an installation and the sound of drills and hammering echoed through the whole place because of all the open internal space. I was disappointed with the Graffiti Hall Of Fame as it had been capped, a regular hazard for paintspotters.

  • Craig

    When I was at the Hall Of Fame there was a TATS crew mural on the external wall had been trashed but I was lucky that a side gate was open and I snuck into the playground during school hours to take some nice shots.

    Now that I come to think of it, I actually went to 5 Pointz prior to going to MOMA. That was an awesome experience but a very long walk from the Upper West Side out to Queens and then back into midtown. Slept well that night,

    • Mark Holsworth

      The playground wall was still beautiful but it was locked so I could only take shots through the fence. It is so tempting to take those long walks in New York – so much to see and you can’t really get lost.

  • erickuns

    Hah, I like you analysis of the value being placed on New York art (which I do love but think is overrated) in a long march to the purification of modern art. I wrote about this same thing yesterday in a piece about the $43,000,000 Barnett Newman. http://artoferickuns.wordpress.com/2013/05/16/buying-barnett-newmans-art-on-faith/
    I also agree the omission of Francis Bacon from the collection of Modern Art is glaring.

    By the way, “The Scream” isn’t even Munch’s best painting, IMO.

    • Mark Holsworth

      Thanks, not that the analysis is entirely mine – How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art is well worth reading. These must see paintings are rarely the best but they are the most accessible, the best at being able to be made into a meme and a must see.

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