By Carter B. Horsley
"Open Ends" is the third and last
installment of the Museum of Modern Art's "MoMA2000,"
its final exhibition before it closes for the reconstruction of
its buildings and expansion, which will not be completed until
2004. The three exhibition "cycles" are intended by
the museum to "mark the millennium."
"Open Ends" consists of 11 different
exhibitions of art since 1960 from its collections. Like the first
two "cycles," this one takes an interdisciplinary approach
rather than traditional chronological approach by examining relationships
and themes as well as "conflicting points of view by juxtaposing
works of art in new and challenging ways," Glenn D. Lowry,
the museum's director, declared in his foreword to the exhibition
catalogue, "Open Ends," which reproduces 554 artworks
in the collection made after 1980, but does not include all the
works in the exhibitions. In his introductory essay to the catalogue,
Kirk Varnedoe explained that "it soon became clear that it
would be impossible, in one volume, to feature the better-known
works of the 1960s and 1970s - including, for example, the masterworks
of Pop and Minimalism - and also to showcase the richness of the
Museum's acquisitions of recent art of the 1980s and 1990s."
"Each cycle," Mr. Lowry continued,
"should be seen as an experiment designed to offer a different
reading or understanding of modern art while providing a more
thorough investigation of the depth and breadth of the collection."
"The collecting of contemporary art has,
in the past few decades," Mr. Varnedoe continued, "challenged
the Museum's structures, both physical and organizational, in
several ways. Most evidently, the scale of many important works
in painting and sculpture has increased beyond the ability of
the institution's building to contain them, and the sprawling
space requirements of other works - especially in the area of
installation art, but also in photography, drawing, and print-making
- have imposed sharp limitations on what can be on view at any
given time. We hope to address these challenges by the dramatic
increase in open, high-ceilinged galleries for contemporary art
in the new Museum building designed by Yoshio Taniguchi"
(see The City Review article on the new building).
Five of the 11 parts of "Open Ends"
opened in the fall of 2000 and will close January 2, 2001:
"Architecture Hot and Cole"; "Innocence and Experience";
"Matter"; "One Thing After Another"; and "Pop
and After." Four of the 11 parts will close January 30, 2001:
"Minimalism and After"; "The Path of Resistance";
"Counter-Monuments and Memory"; and "White Spectrum."
Two of the 11 parts will close March 4, 2001: "Actual Size"
and "Sets and Situations."
In addition, "Open Ends" include
banners by Janine Antoni, Shahzia Sikander and Kara Walker that
will be displayed on the museum's façade through March
13, 2001, and several large-scale works and installations whose
closing dates have yet to be determined. These works and installations
include "F-111," a very large 1964-5 painting by James
Rosenquist, part of which is shown above, and "Broken Obelisk,"
a 1963-9 sculpture by Barnett Newman.
Other installations include "October 18,
1977," a 1988 work by Gerhard Richter, "Untitled Film
Stills" taken by Cindy Sherman 1978-1981, "Water Tower,"
a 1998 work by Rachel Whiteread, shown above, and "Borrowing
Your Enemy's Arrows," a 1998 work by Cai Guo-Qiang, shown
Much of the exhibition can be viewed on the
Internet at the museum's excellent website at http://www.moma.org/exhibitions/openends/open_ends.html.
The exhibition's large-scale artworks are quite
impressive, much more so than the very large number of photographs
and film stills on view.
Several of the exhibition's sections that are
not included in the "Open Ends" catalogue have gallery
The brochure for one such gallery, "Pop
and After," provides the following commentary:
"Pop art may seem simple. Against the
moral seriousness claimed by abstract painting in the 1950s, or
in contrast to the ascetic Conceptual art of the 1970s, its gaudy
commercialism may seem just a flash-in-the-pan episode of day-glo
indulgence. But Pop held complex attitudes in unstable collusion,
and its tent covered widely varying temperaments, both in America
and abroad. Especially since the 1980s, Pop's methods and motifs
have become touchstones for countless artists concerned with the
intersections between public language and private consciousness….Pop
art often shocked by giving banal little things monumental significance.
Claes Oldenberg's soft sculptures (such as Floor Cone,
1962) are prime examples. These objects, connected to the participatory
theater of happenings in the early 1860s, had already spurned
sculpture;s traditional pedestals and upright rigidity to act
with fresh immediacy on our body-consciousness. But Vito Acconci's
gigantesque Adjustable Wall Bra (1990-91), shown above,
is an ongoing event in itself, that incorporates the viewer: each
cup provides seating, with surrounding music and the sounds of
breathing. Its connections are with performance pieces of the
1970s, self-conscious essays in social psychology, where the artist
inserted his private obsessions into public situations….A
delight in red-lipped, big-breasted pin-ups was typical of the
Pop artists' cheeky love of cheap clichés. It was also
connected to a moment in America when the cultural assertion of
sexuality, even in such exclusively male fantasies, still seemed
to be liberating for everyone. Pop's daylight erotica was a matter
of common cheesecake rather than of dark taboos and inner demons,
and, like a lot of the rest of Pop, it held pleasure and irony
in peculiar concert. It is just that happy balance that gets skewed
- or skewered - in Jeff Koons's Pink Panther (1988). [See
a version of it reproduced in The City
Review article on the Contemporary Art Auction at Christie's November
16, 1999 where it sold for $1,817,500 including the buyer's
premium.] This souvenir-stand vision of depilated peroxide erotica
has an over-the-top quality of pneumatic fantasy that makes Pop's
sexpots seem innocently hearty by comparison. Koon's deadhanded
distance - the glossy ceramic's fabrication was commissioned from
artisans - is another way in which he puts fresh asperity into
the uneasy meldings of heat and ice, kitsch and art, that Pop
had essayed. But the mass imagery of sex presented very different
issues for female artists such as Cindy Sherman. She deflated
Pop fantasies by inhabiting them herself, turning the conventions
of commercial seduction into clumsy costume playlets in a way
that rendered them hollow."
"Andy Warhol's 1962 array of thirty-two
Campbell's Soup Cans, shown above, is one of Pop's
most potent emblems of American commercial life, embodying both
run-on abundance and repetitious monotony. Its twinned attention
to packaging and consumption has resonated, with sharp contemporary
twists, in the work of countless younger artists….Jasper
Johns's Flag of 1958 helped launch Pop, both because Johns
chose to work with 'things the mind already knows,' and because
his painting seemed to become one with the emblem it represented.
Since the 1960's, artists have often refashioned John's gesture.
They have, for example, focused on the idea that viewers have
many minds, which produces an impure social condition of 'already
knowning.' Andy Warhol's Hammer and Sickle (1976), and
David Hammon's African-American Flag (1990), are both pointedly
abut public signs that divide people's perceptions.Warhol's 'Soviet'
play of shadow and substance ironically mimes the gestural painting
that was so often associated with 'all-American' freedoms in earlier
Cold War propaganda. Hammons, by contrast, works against Old Glory
from the inside out. Imposing a palette of black, green, and red
often associated with Africa, in order to emblazon racial schism,
he also moves a step beyond John's partial identity of art-work
and object, abandoning paint and personal touch to produce a banner
as functional as it is fictional."
The exhibition's section entitled "The
Path of Resistance" has a brochure that offers the following
In "Cleaning the Drapes, her photocollage
of 1969-72, shown above, Martha Rosler depicts a housewife too
preoccupied with her chores to notice a war raging outside her
window, as much a sly comment on the stifling effects of domestic
isolation on women as on our wish to deny the horrors of Vietnam….By
the 1980s, the popularity of street protest had waned, and some
of the most overt forms of institutionalized discrimination had
vanished. What still persisted, however, were the painful and
difficult realities of bigotry and intolerance, so abstract in
nature as to elude literal interpretation and so deeply ingrained
in our culture and history as to defy clear solutions. Recognizing
this, the more successful political artists of the last two decades
have confronted these pervasive and seemingly intractable problems
by complicating rather than simplifying our understanding of them.
Felix Gonzalez-Torres, an openly gay artist of Hispanic descent,
who die of AIDS-related causes in 1996, created works that entice
viewers with their seductive beauty and engage them in multiple,
elusive meanings. The seven paper cones of his "Untitled"
(Supreme Majority) (1991), shown below, seem at first glance
to belong to the rarefied world of Minimalist abstraction, but
on closer examination they resemble dunce caps, Ku Klux Klan hoods,
or the spiked peaks and valleys of opinion polls. As the title
suggests, the cones can thus be seen as an oblique rebuke to the
demagogy of the recent political landscape, or as an allusion
to the seven Supreme Court justices appointed by Presidents Reagan
In her catalogue essay, "Sets and Situations,"
M. Darsie Alexander observes that many contemporary artists such
as Gregory Crewdson, "have forsaken the tradition of photographing
the world of everyday events in order to fashion their own alternate
realities, creating sets and situations exclusively for the camera,"
adding that "working in this state of 'retreat' from the
outside world has enabled them to exert a high level of control."
"A shift toward what has been termed 'fabricated photography'
or 'the photography of invention' came about gradually, the result
of a growing awareness of photography's fictionalizing attributes.
During the 1960s, artists and critics began to challenge many
of the prevailing assumptions about photography's objectivity,
examining how the meaning of an image can be shaped by many factors,
from the politics of its maker to the context of its presentation.,"
the essay continued. Artists included in this section of the exhibition
also include James Casebere, Laurie Simmons, Cindy Sherman and
"After the sensory and material overdrive
of the 1980s, the design world now privileges simplicity and originality,"
according to Paola Antonelli in her catalogue essay, "Mind
Over Matter In Contemporary Design." A Dutch collective Droog
Design created in 1993 had a minimalist aesthetic and, Antonelli
observed, "the apparent modesty of the objects of Droog Design,
made of recycled parts and using visibly low technology, was crowned
by unexpectedly high prices." "Droog Design," she
continued, "became the international symbol of a new less-is-more
approach and of a political correctness in design, so dry and
visually spare as to look impoverished - an illusion supported
neither by the manufacturing process nor by the retail prices.
Thus a deeply ingrained character of hypocrisy entered the functional
arts in the early 1990s. Among the most renowned objects from
this period in the Museum's collection are Tejo Memy's 1991 'You
Can't Lay Down Your Memory' Chest of Drawers…and Rody
Grauman's 1992 work, 85 Lamps Lighting Fixture…, and
Hella Jongerius's Soft Vase of 1994….Just like the
1950s, these are optimistic times, marked by a renewed attention
to domestic living and human mobility, guided by concerns abut
the environment and by a strong international political consciousness,
and fueled by exuberant progress in technological research. In
contemporary design, ethics are as important as aesthetics, and
morality - even moralism - inspires many contemporary 'users'
to rid themselves of redundancies. As a consequence, the design
landscape has changed during the past twenty years. Furniture
has become sleeker, and less formal and impertinent. Accessories
have become smaller, more personalized, and easier to use….The
substances we used to know and recognize have become the basic
ingredients for unexpected combinations, opening up a new world
of possibilities for designers and manufacturers." Among
the artists represented in this section of the exhibition are
Mary Ann Toots Zinsky, Shiro Kuramata and Fernando and Humberto
In "Home and Away," Fereshteh Daftari
writes about globalization and the work of Cai Guo-Giang:
"Born in Quanzhou, in the Fujian province
of China, he studied in Shanghai, has exhibited in Asia, Europe,
America, Australia, and south Africa, and now resides in New York
- there he first showed Borrowing Your Enemy's Arrows…,
a sculpture that embodies a metaphor for cross-cultural exchange.
The work is built on the skeleton of an old, fishing boat, excavated
near the port where the artist began his personal journey. Bristling
with 3,000 arrows designed by the artist, and fabricated in his
native city, the ship flies the flag of contemporary China, but
refers to the nation's deeper history. Historical texts (known
as sanguozhi) recount how General Zhuge Liang, lacking
ammunition in the face of a heavily armed enemy, was ordered to
procure 10,000 arrows in ten days. The legend recounts that, on
a foggy night, the general sent a boat loaded with bales of straw
across the river, toward his foes. When the enemy had fired volley
after volley of arrows at this decoy, the general pulled it back,
full of a captured store of fresh ammunition. One subject of the
sculpture, then, is how a culture may appropriate and transform
foreign intrusions into a defensive strategy."
Daftari also writes about the artist KCHO (Alexis
Leyva Machado) and his artwork, The Infinite Column I,
which was made in Cuba, and has as a theme a boat, but is about
"The Infinite Column I is in part
a conscious homage - in its title, its form, and its artisanal
mode of production - to the early former sculptor Constantin Brancusi,
who himself drew constantly on the folk traditions of his native
Romania while living in Paris. Brancusi's major outdoor monument,
a 1938 war memorial, includes a stacked and modular Endless
Column made of steel. KCHO's open-lattice structure, seemingly
jury-rigged from building scrap and common hardware, has a very
different character. As flimsy as a drawing outlining a dream,
it is willfully precarious and provisory. Embodying the triumph
of aspiring ambition over impoverished means, these multiplied
boat forms, rising upward, irresistibly conjure the worldwide
migratory phenomenon of 'boat people,' fleeing their homelands
- even if the sculpture, and its creator, elude any simple political
categorization. KCHO's boats may in fact be traveling to the Cuban
main island (and Havana) from his destitute native Isla de la
Juventud. Poetically ethereal yet monumental and looming, his
ascending, gyrating boats open onto the broader meanings of voyage
and transit, freighted with both hope and peril."
Another artist in this section is Mona Hatoum,
who was born in Beirut to Christian Palestinian parents, but since
1975 has been based in England.
"The forms of her work," according
to Daftari, "reflect the West and her British art training,
but the content is more personal and less easy to associate with
any one culture. Often her expression involves the use of, or
reference to, the body - a device that may reflect what she says
is the absence, in her Palestinian inheritance, of a simplistic
mind-body dichotomy, but one that is also intimately tied to the
epoch of AIDS and its broader artistic renewals of an often macabre
fascination with the corporeal and organic. Silence…, for
example, made of test tubes on which the movement of light gives
the illusion of fluid traveling in transparent arteries, seems
quietly to fight for its own life. More generally, elements of
instability - a lack of anchoring, slippery ground, shifting maps,
and dangerous terrain - define the experience of much of Hatoum's
art, and its lingering sense of deracination."
Another artist in this section is Chris Ofili,
who was born in Europe as the son of Nigerian immigrants and now
lives in London. "The vehicles of his expression - intricately
worked paintings that seem at once gaudy, pungent, and tender
- are extravagant hybrid fictions….As a sophisticated young
member of a lively urban art community, Ofili is fully conversant
with long-standing debates pitting abstraction against figuration,
craft against ready-made appropriation, and so on. Hence the hybrids
in his work bring together not only inflections of different cultures,
but also elements of opposing approaches within modern Western
art. The highly decorative, cake-icing surface, for example, seems
right in step with certain trends of the 1990s, but its swarming
fields of small resin dots actually stem from dot drawings the
artist saw in Zimbabwe. The elephant dung offers a still more
complex origin. An appropriated, 'transgressive' ready-made material
taken from the London zoo, it also conjures up African tribal
art, where its presence is affirmative and even sacred. Its inclusion
suggests an outsider translating European strategies, and, at
the same time, an exile looking back with a new eye on indigenous
Daftari notes that globalization poses a number
of questions: "Are the borrowings from and minglings of references
from marginalized cultures only a savvy strategy of 'niche marketing,'
bound eventually to exhaust the freshness of their appeal, or
are they the signal of a growing wave of art that will render
obsolete many of the frontiers, boundaries, and self-enclosed
traditions that have so determining? Is this a phenomenon of greater
tolerance of expanded diversity, or only the cloak for an increasing
homogenization? In all the cases touched on here, fluency in the
language of Western art has been a requisite for access to the
global sphere of exhibitions, museums, galleries, and journals.
It may be fair, then, to wonder whether, in the process of featuring
and enabling difference, the new art world is ultimately weakening
the authority of any zone of resistance, such as those artists
who choose not to speak in the current vernacular of the marketplace."
"Post-World War II artists have systematically
engaged in an aesthetic interrogation and implicit rejection of
the monumental," observed Roxana Marcoci in her catalogue
essay, "The Vanishing Monument and the Archive of Memory."
"The advent of 'counter-monuments' (monuments
conceived to undermine the premises of their own being) in the
late 1960s," she continued, "constitutes an effective
visual component to the period's protests over war and civil-rights
issues. An early instance is Barnett Newman's Broken Obelisk,
1963-69, a twenty-six-foot-tall pillar forged on the unstable-looking
tip-to-tip junction of an upright pyramid and an up-ended obelisk
with a fractured shaft. Dedicated to Martin Luther King, Jr.,
following his assassination in 1968, the work at once presents
a conventional heroic form and reverses public expectations of
"In his Proposal for a Monument to
the Survival of the University of El Salvador: Blasted Pencil
(That Still Writes), 1984…, Claes Oldenburg imagined
a huge pencil as a monument, but presented it shattered , under
erasure. Its point, however, is intact: this is a pencil 'that
still writes,' and thus continues to tell its story. Memory survives
uncensored. Felix Gonzalez-Torres's 'Untitled' (Death by Gun),
1990…, is a more particular analysis of violence, this time
on the home front. Evoking the monolithic configuration of one
of Donald Judd's Minimalist modules, the work is in fact transient,
consisting of a stack of paper sheets that are steadily replaced
as viewers, by invitation, take them away. On each sheet are printed
the names of 464 Americans killed by guns in a one-week period,
along with the photographs and other personal data," Ms.
Rachel Whiteread turns, she maintained, to
"the notion of interiority…of the literal inversion
of space, to dig into the pool of memory and collective history.
Her casts in plaster, wax, rubber, resin, or concrete, which range
from domestic objects to full-scale rooms…, convey a sense
of history even as they signal human absence. Untitled (Paperbacks),
1997, [shown above]…, is the negative cast of a walk-in library,
where row upon row of paperbacks, shelved spine inward, double
as a mnemonic field."
"The 'skin-and-bones' interpretation of
the glass box favored not only a sense of absolute transparency
but also - in Miesian architecture - an exposition of structural
clarity. Toyo Ito's 1995 Mediathèque Project in Sendai,
Japan, with its writhing trunklike supports, suggests that alternate
structural readings are not only possible but also highly provocative,"
wrote Terence Riley in his catalogue essay, "Relentlessly
Other architects whose works appear in this
section include S.I.T.E., Steven Holl, Zaha M. Hadid, whose 1991
"Hong Kong Peak Competition" is shown below, and Peter
"Open Ends" is a difficult, dense
exhibition to comprehend as it deals with too many themes and
is very large. The brochures in some of the galleries help a lot
and are well-written, but too much of the material presented is
not clearly decipherable as to its import and intentions for the
average layman. Much of the "art" shown here has little
discernible aesthetics and requires explanation. Some of the larger
installations, such as "Borrowing Your Enemy's Arrows"
by Cai Guo-Qiang, are immensely intriguing and impressive without
accompanying explanations, but many of the photographs in the
exhibition cannot really stand on their own as artistic objects
and are better described as self-inflated indulgences of little
consequence. The catalogue's essays are generally quite good,
but discuss only a few of the many objects on view.
Like the first two parts of the three-part
exhibition, many of the shows started and ended their "run"
earlier than others, due one suspects to the daunting logistics.
All of the individual parts of the exhibitions really deserved
their own full-fledged shows and the disparate themes however
interesting became something of a blur for some visitors to the
museum, a situation not helped by the fact that there were multiple
catalogues that did not include everything.
The museum's commitment to experiment with
ways of exhibiting art other than chronologically cannot be faulted,
but hopefully the chronological approach will not be completely
abandoned for it has its merits. One of the sections of the current
show has to do with scale. Many of the photographs are relatively
small and it becomes somewhat difficult in crowded galleries to
get close to the labels to decipher everything. On the other hand,
one worries a bit that the museum's obvious interest in things
contemporary may result in many large-scale works taking up a
disproportionate amount of precious gallery space even in the
expanded new structures. One also might question the commitment
to contemporary art if it begins to crowd out its acquisition
of important earlier, "modern" works of art. That said,
there is plenty of provocative and interesting work in this exhibition
even if it is uneven. It could be said the exhibit is not for
the weak of mind.