Having grown up in NYC and lived here my whole life, this was not my first visit to MOMA. On our trip we reviewed many exhibits I’ve seen before but never with a guide so that was interesting. That being said, the ones that stand out are some classics that relate to the theme of illusions and nothingness.
I can’t help but love the absurdity in Cubism and how random objects are tied together through paint to reveal subtleties in relation. Above is Chirico’s The Song of Love, 1914. It is very symbolic of the way people were feeling during WWI. A sense of loss (one glove), the absurdity and uncertainty of the war (the glove is as big as the stone head), the dramatization of the effects of war (the perspective of the street in relation to the objects). And yet, in the background, there is a single little glimpse of a beautiful cloud amidst a gorgeous blue sky that tricks us into comfort and leads us into feeling more insecure as we take in the objects in the foreground. I can’t help but wonder about the title of the piece, The Song of Love. The phrase also tricks us into thinking what we are seeing is merely beautiful and not necessarily tragic. In one moment you can see the joy in the image, but in another you can feel the absurdity, the sadness, and the passion in that dismay. Things don’t make sense in this world Chicero has commented upon and it certainly marks a time during humanity that was uncertain and doomed. Nothingness was certain.
Something feels familiar about this Magritte. Something similar to The Song Of Love. The perspective of this piece seems almost unnecessary. This assumed couple, heads draped in tightly formed sheets, are kissing so passionately but it is as random as a head of a statue bound to a wall with a glove next to it (I haven’t even mentioned the green ball yet). I could almost see this picture as a New Year’s Eve photo a friend took of his long time, married friends. In someone’s colorful but dull apartment or house. There’s actually nothing spectacular going on if you take away the sheets. It leaves you imagining what’s underneath but the perspective of the room keeps you from obsessing over that. Whatever the viewer assumes about the individuals in this painting are an illusion created by the lack of information we receive about them because of the sheets. And the perspective that almost looks flat and feels a bit off, only makes for an absurd narrative.
This piece screams nothingness. It’s filthy, and makes me nauseous. It’s as though someone put out their huge cigarette in the middle of a canvas, and left it there for years. It looks like a disease and provokes memories of unease and foggy mistrust. I don’t especially like it and it’s not enjoyable to look at, but I can’t help but wonder how it’s made and what was on Girgorian’s mind when he made it. There’s so much texture it looks like ant’s piled stacks of ash into a city, a colony of clouds. There’s so much emptiness but so much happening all at once. Where you think you see nothing you actually see all these crevasses that looks like earth starved of water but boiling up underneath. It almost feels like I’m in an airplane, looking straight down at a target, and I’ve just dropped a bomb, and this terrible fog is the aftermath.
A tragic life led to this painful painting. Max Ernst, a WWI veteran, traumatized from the war and the death of his sister, hallucinated intimidating objects in wood grain of his bed post while infected with the measles as a child. A nightingale, a spinning top, an opened wooden fence were among these strange illusions. The title, Two Children are Threatened by a Nightingale suggest Max and his sister, traumatized by a threatening bird, exist in an abstract space together after her death. The objects chosen are strange put together and the perspective. And the physicality introduced by way of the fence, spinning top, and shed bring you into the scene and distract you from questioning the absurdity of the situation. There is nothing that really adheres every object in this scenario. Nothing depends on the other in order to exist. Nothing relies on something else in order to achieve relevance in this portrayal. Yet, everything has an order to it, which could be of my own implementation.
My favorite painting at MoMA, Persistance of Memory, was not there when I went but it’s very relevant. Melting clocks on a serene beach with ants eating away at a decaying time piece and a figure loosely resembling a man’s face lying dead on the ground with his tongue coming out of his nose and his eyelash, giant, carving into his cheek bone — it’s unsettling. There’s no location where this painting takes place. Other than a beach landscape with cliffs in the background, you can’t make out what planet you’re on. The water turns into a shelf which drives this point home. It’s some kind of acid fantasy where you’ve lost your ego and you seem to empathetic to exist in the world. Time doesn’t exist and you cease to enter the world of causality. Dali wants us to be confused, but he also wants to show us what it is to be in the human condition. He plays only with the illusions that life give to us — of time, of place, of security. But he shows it and displays it as a nightmare. Something nauseous that we don’t want to admit or talk about.