Yup. It really happened, this “happening.” Not having visited the renovated Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, I finally set aside time when invited to a private party several months ago.
There would be only a couple of hundred people attending the after-hours event, so I could see the “art” in its revised settings without hordes of tourists, without paying the high-ticket fare, and with a few glasses of wine to brace myself for what I already knew I would encounter art-wise.
After all, I had been to the old museum enough to know what to expect.
Many of the museum’s offerings were quite a chuckle, actually, like the paint-scratching (or scratch-painting?) maybe 20 feet by 30 feet by a very famous contemporary “artist” in the museum’s reception area, where I got my first glass of warm white wine.
A note card stuck on the wall beside the “artwork” explained how the “artist” sat on the shoulders of his assistant who then moved back and forth and up and down — some of it on a ladder, I presume, while the "artist" brushed on the paint at will, all along riding the ups-and-downs-and-all-arounds of his assistant’s gymnastics.
I won’t bother to describe the rooms full of fractured paintings by familiar names of modernism, nor the contemporary concoctions adhered to the walls or the piles of “whatever” sculptures by “whichever” other famous names that are strewn about or sticking up or hanging down, because what I want to tell about is the “Happening,” the piece de resistance of the evening: the map.
You know, the map given out at the information desk, so you can find your way around the museum. I mean, the paper brochure with lines, words, and colored room images on it. You know, the little lay-out map.
Well, someone had accidentally dropped a map dead center of a very large room with pieces of “sculpture,” “installations,” and deconstructed “constructions” parked here and there.
The map lay on the wood floor all by itself, sort of important like. It wasn’t wrinkled or wadded up like the paper “sculptures” I had recently seen in a Lower East Side gallery. It looked fresh and pristine.
I walked over to it and called out loudly to my husband: “Come look at this! Isn’t it fascinating how your focus becomes riveted on this small and simple but oh! so crucial piece of paper?
"But they don’t even have a little fence or those orange cones that are used at the Tate in London or anything at all around it to protect this work of art. It’s so little in outward form but filled with such enigmatic inner meaning. I mean, look at the captivating color formations.”
My husband joined in with his own jargon, and gosh! we got really exercised over this incredible find.
Pretty soon, a bunch of other guests gathered around me, my husband, and the map. A few smiled at both the map and me, but truth be told, most actually tried to “understand” it; the insecure looks on their faces confessed whirling brain waves and synaptic staccatos that just couldn’t seem to settle down.
Was it supposed to be humorous, or did it signify something they couldn’t grasp?
And there was no little note card pinned anywhere to explain it! I called a guard over and asked him about the safety of this exquisite little artwork because it seemed someone might step on it and cause damage without noticing.
On the other hand, I mused, lots of contemporary art is meant by their creators to be walked on or kicked around. Was this one of those?
The guard shuffled his feet in place for a minute or two, seemingly unable to figure out what to say.
A tangle of twine or hanging, fan-blown sheets, or twisted car parts welded together, I suppose, he could cope with because they were pretty common, but . . . Well, I guess this object did look like one of the museum’s maps even to him, so . . . Well, he just looked sort of stumped.
Finally, my husband and I could stand it no longer. We had enjoyed about 10 minutes of real fun — it was a good party after all. We cracked up. I picked up the map and handed it to a newcomer edging his way into the rather large group that had assembled by now to view the “Happening.”
“Oh, sir,” I said, with some concern. “You look lost. Here! Take this and relocate yourself.”
Very few people laughed with us. Some looked shocked, others offended, and some looked so lost that I wished I had more maps to give out.
Such is the state of our art and culture.
Alexandra York is an author and founding president of the American Renaissance for the Twenty-first Century (ART) a New-York-City-based nonprofit educational arts and culture foundation. She has written for many publications, including "Reader’s Digest" and The New York Times. Her latest book is "The Innocent." For more on Alexandra York, Go Here Now.
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