I took a last minute trip down to the Bay Area in February to escape some claustrophobia and loneliness from living in my home town for the last three months. I decided to visit SFMoMA because I had recently been telling someone about my ambivalence toward the new building and to the permanent collection. I wanted to see if I still felt the same way.
As for the building, I do. I tend to have a good sense of direction, but I am always disoriented in the Snøhetta designed space. Having to walk around longer to find the correct exit could be a good design strategy if you are trapping people in an environment that encourages lingering observation or pleasure. With SFMoMA, I find I am usually trying to find an exit to escape a large, loud crowd.
I do still feel the same about the permanent collection as well (except for the Cy Twombly paintings and the Agnes Martin room, which I am in love with). But, I saw some interesting work in the current exhibitions.
First, there was a video in the Art and China after 1989 exhibition titled “To Add One Meter to an Anonymous Mountain, 1995” by Cang Xin, Duan Yingmei, Ma Liuming, Ma Zhongren, Wang Shihua, Zhang Binbin, Zhang Huan, Zhu Ming, and Zuoxiao Zuzhou. The video shows the artists routinely removing their clothes, weighing themselves, and creating a pyramid by lying on top of one another.
The actions were simple, humble, almost domestic feeling. There was some self-consciousness in the nudity. One of the artists had a difficult time removing a pant leg, another had to do a slight testicle readjustment — moments of vulnerability. Set against the mountainous, misty landscape and heavily documented by photographers and other appraisers stepping in and out of frame toward the end, the performance had an air of the clinical layered over the pastoral.
I was also able to see a retrospective of artist Vija Celmins work that I would have liked to spend more time with. I wasn’t very familiar with Celmins work before this trip. I believe I had seen some of her graphite drawings of choppy ocean waves. The drawings are cropped without a horizon and much of the other landscape context other than the light source. I think it is fair to say that Celmins work is very heavily about the materials and the processes of close rendering. It was overwhelming thinking about the amount of time she must have and still does spend in her studio, face nearly planted in a canvas.
When I got back to Northern California and read about SFMoMA’s announcement that it will be selling a Mark Rothko painting to help diversify its holdings and my first thought was why not a Lichtenstein (for aesthetic reasons) or all of their Carl Andre (for aesthetic and moral). Read more about the decision in this NYT article: