Right now, ongoing until March next year, the MoMA is exhibiting items from its collection from the sixties, when conceptual art was all the rage.
It’s a fascinating exhibition, thought-provoking and humorous as conceptual art can be. I can’t help but be stumped by many items – sheets of paper with random lines, for example – but I’m not about to debate what art is with the curators of the MoMA, so I look and inspect and wonder.
There’s a triptych of canvases by the American artist Jo Baer entitled “Primary Light Group: Red, Green, Blue.” It’s three white canvases with red, green, and blue borders. Here’s how it’s described: “These three paintings belong to a series of twelve that vary in color, luminosity, size, and shape. A product of the 1960s impulse to create art from predetermined systems, the works in this series can be arranged in 479,001,600 combinations, Baer has calculated.”
“OOF” is oil on canvas by American artist Edward Ruscha. Here’s part of the description: “Rendered in emphatic but cheery yellow capital letters that contrast with its bright blue background, ‘oof’ oscillates between image and language, a joke and a profound utterance.” (So deep.)
Then there’s “What Is Painting” by John Baledessari, synthetic polymer paint on canvas. Here’s the wonderful (awful? annoying? mind-boggling?) thing about this painting – the text is from an instruction manual and painted by a commercial sign painter hired by Baldessari. In other words, Baldessari essentially just organized the materials, the content, and the actual maker of the work.
There’s a can entitled “Artist’s Shit No. 014” by Piero Manzoni, an Italian artist. It’s supposed to be made of metal, paper, and “artist’s shit.” I’m not sure why “artist’s shit” is in quotation marks, but they are in the description. The artist insists his shit is inside the can, but it’s sealed so we will never know. (Let’s not know.)
There is, at least, one item in the exhibit that everyone will agree is beautiful. Part of the museum’s collection of industrial design, the Jaguar racecar from the sixties is in the middle of the first room (the same room as the can of artist’s shit). Sleek, shiny, and glamorous, the E-Type Roadster is a true work of art created by British designers in the famous British car company in 1961.
According to the MoMA website, the exhibition will be adjusted every now and then to showcase other items in the museum’s collection from the 1960s. They have over seven thousand individual items from the period and the exhibition is currently only showing about 350.