Art appreciation for girls

The new MOMA in New York is an interesting place, although the building itself had less of a personality than I had anticipated, and I don’e2’80’99t know that the light is as perfect as I would ask for, were I one of the painters hung there. Monet’e2’80’99s lilies looked pretty muddy to me.

Still, one finds a collection of friends there as no place else, and the advantage of new surroundings is that even the familiar faces have a startlingly new look to them.

I learn things at MOMA. On one of my first trips there, I learned that, despite my longstanding mistrust of the purely abstract, Jackson Pollack was indeed an artist, that it is possible to create a complex emotional reality by dribbling and throwing paint at the canvas: these are not things your three-year old can do.

This visit added a dimension to my experience of the man Pollack, and it was, I am certain, due to a deliberate and subtle choice on the part of whoever was in charge of hanging those paintings.

The new building has a lot of ins and outs to it, including a bridge that induces severe dizziness in those of us who dislike heights. One crosses the bridge into the next section, and there are some Krasners.

Lee Krasner was a painter working the same time and methods as Pollack. If you’e2’80’99ve seen the movie, you’e2’80’99ll remember her as the woman to whom Pollack, by way of seduction, says something along the line of, You’e2’80’99re pretty good for a girl painter. This being the attitude of the era, of course, although my daughter bristled furiously at the movie’e2’80’99s attitudes, she herself being pretty good for a girl anything.

Krasner and Pollack were together for a long time, and she was always in his shadow. It was a big shadow, but had she been a man, she might have succeeded in making a bigger one of her own.

But here at MOMA, Krasner has a secret friend. Because as one wanders through the room in which her paintings hang, admiring the squiggles and splashes, one then walks into the bigger room containing (if containing is the word) the Pollacks. Big, grabby paintings, absolutely assured, and yes, damn it, masterpieces.

However, as one turns to head for the next room, the eyes might spare a brief glance through the wide doorway at the previous room. That room is bisected by a freestanding section of display wall, which fills the viewpoint from the Pollack room. On that display wall, facing the Pollack room, is a Krasner painting. On the wall of the Pollack room, to the left of the wide doorway and facing in the same direction, is a Pollack, nearly identical in size and style to the Krasner. The eyes flick from the nearer to the farther, from his to hers, and one begins to smile. Particularly if one is a woman.

Because Krasner’e2’80’99s is the better painting. And someone in the museum wanted us to see that.

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  1. Linda in Delaware on June 1, 2005 at 3:55 pm

    So, Laurie – you’re back in NY again?? Your commentary about MOMA is fascinating.

    linda in delaware

  2. Paige on June 1, 2005 at 4:44 pm

    I visited the MoMA last week and had a similar reaction as I was walking through the Krasner galleries…and I’m glad I’m not the only one that sees it.


  3. Rebecca Le Good on June 1, 2005 at 4:45 pm

    Your post reminds me of the retrospective that the Tate had held on Gwen and Augustus John. It had been held that Augustus was the more accomplished painter until this exhibition where Gwen’s brilliance showed how much ‘better’ she was than her more illustrious brother. It is just as well that in this day and age we can appreciate art for its own sake and not who had painted it.

  4. Mary on June 1, 2005 at 8:26 pm

    I’m going to have to go back to MOMA and check that out. I’ve only been once since the opening. There was so much to take in I’m afraid I missed a lot. Been meaning to get back there ever since. You’d think a New Yorker would be better at taking advantage of the wonderful things around her 😉

    Laurie, are you in town for Book Expo? Its going to be a fantastic weekend. So many authors to see, so little time.

  5. caroline on June 2, 2005 at 3:12 pm

    thanks for posting about MOMA and Krasner et al. What a delightfully wry twist on the whole art world misogyny issue. perhaps in the art world one could say that the curators have the final say?
    and with perfect synchronicity I just finished re-reading (again) your Letter of Mary. Damn, Ms. Laurie, you do write a beautiful story and paragraphs/sentences that take the breath away. I realize that this is likely coals to newcastle but you are one of those rare authors that one wishes to have never read just for the exquisite pleasure of experiencing the first-ever reading again. thank you.

  6. 2maple on June 3, 2005 at 6:10 pm

    Sorry to stir the pot but, art is such a selfish thing. You can’e2’80’99t like it just because others do. You have to feel it for yourself. I truly never ever gave a thought as to whether it was done by a man or woman. The question’e2’80’99s far more basic. Like it or not?

    Krasner. Pollock. I don’e2’80’99t like abstract art. Never have. Probably never will. I just don’e2’80’99t respond to it at all’e2’80’a6 and it brought out my evil side in college, bedeviling one of my professors (abstract art was his thing) by doing things like this project’e2’80’99s for you (which he rave about, and I would think was just awful) and the next one’e2’80’99s for me (that he would complain about, and I would smile and go away happy)- but this was not as bratty as it sounds; the course was on lithography and technique was important while content was essentially irrelevant. Ah well’e2’80’a6It kept us both entertained.

    Now, Monet is something else entirely. His work is all about light and texture and motion’e2’80’a6you feel it almost more than see it; or at least that’e2’80’99s what happens to me anyway. Pity the lighting at MOMA was not up to snuff. What I love about his work is the same thing I love about looking hay fields full of wild flowers, and wind and light and skies that are always different.

  7. Karen McCarthy on June 8, 2005 at 10:16 am

    I had a similar reaction earlier this spring at the Rodin museum in Paris. A special exhibit was displaying the works of Camille Claudel, also an sculptor shadowed by her relationship with the big-shouldered, famous man. Her pieces were invariably finer, and were displayed by the museum curators to invite that discovery!
    Karen in Michigan

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