8.11.2008

Geo/Metric at MoMA, Part 1


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If you’re in New York this week and you have even a passing interest in geometry, get over to the new work-on-paper galleries on the second floor at MoMA to see Geo/Metric, up through the 18th. Travel is not in your plans? Well, get comfortable here in front of the monitor, as I have a lot of images to show you. The work in this show is from the MoMA collection, which means visitors were free to photograph it. I did, from every conceivable angle. The installation is beautifully thought out, so every angle permits visual connections between and among the works.

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A hallway on the second floor at MoMA leading to Geo/Metric. This work is from the untitled Forms Derived From a Cube, by Sol Lewitt, from a portfolio of etchings and aquatint

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The wall text describes the show as “an informal survey of the impulse toward geometric abstraction in visual art over the past century.” It’s a worthy premise represented by a wonderful selection of work. A wide-ranging show in four large galleries, it begins with the Cubists and Suprematists in the early 1900s; continues on to Minimalism, Op and hard-edge abstraction; and ends with new work by younger artists like Mark Grotjahn and Olaf Nicolai.

Starr Figura, the associate curator of prints and illustrated books, and Kathleen Curry, assistant curator for research and collections, are to be commended. Not only is the show beautifully selected, it’s installed in a way that from any vantage point you may see something of the historical range on exhibition. Moreover, they did not exclude the contributions of women artists to this genre. Sophie Taeuber Arp, Hannah Hoch and Lyubov Popova are in the first gallery; Bridget Riley, whose acute-angled print on plexiglass opens the second gallery, is followed with work by Jo Baer, Lygia Clark, Mary Heilmann, Agnes Martin and Dorothea Rockburne.

If you follow this blog, you know that color and abstract geometric work are two elements I seek out, so this exhibition is a little slice of heaven.

To orient you to the space as I take you around, know that the galleries for this exhibition are laid out geometrically. Envision a square divided in thirds horizontally. The bottom third is Gallery 1, where you enter (the two images below). The top third is Gallery 3. The middle third is divided in half vertically into the smaller Galleries 2 and 4. Galleries 1, 2 and 4 are painted light gray; the large gallery 3 is creamy white. Got that?





Here we are in Gallery 1. Above: The entrance to the exhibition is behind us, and we’re looking toward the right. (Pay no attention to the Albers prints; they’re in Gallery 4 and we’ll get to them later.) Arranged around the wall to the right of the Albers prints are works by Kandinsky, Malevich and Alexandr Vesnin

.Below, the view continues on the far wall with work by El Lissitsky and, on the right wall, Moholy-Nagy. I particularly like the drawings by Malevich and the lithos by Moholy Nagy. In the vitrine are small works by Aleksei Kruchenykh and Vasilii Kamenskii

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Two from Kazemir Malevich, above: Suprematist Elements: Squares, 1923, pencil on paper, 19 3/4 x 14 1/4; and Suprematist Element: Circle, 1923, pencil on paper, 18 1/2 by 14 3/8


Below: Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Untitled from Konstruktionen, 1923, lithograph, 23 9/16 x 17 5/6 inches. This is one from a portfolio of six lithographs

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Turning to the left side of the room there’s work by Lyubov Popova and Frantisek Kupka. I find the installation of these works jarring. The placement of the sixth Popova on the wall above the line of five seems like an afterthought, and I would have liked a more formal installation of the Kupka works, in keeping with the rest of the show. (Pay no attention to the glimpse of Ellsworth Kelly gouaches in Gallery 2; we’ll get to them in the next post.)





On the wall at left, gouache and ink paintings on paper by Frantisek Kupka from 1912. On the wall at right, linoleum block prints with gouache and watercolor by Lyubov Popova. (I never heard of them either, but it was interesting to see the work in the context of this exhibition.)


Below, a work from Popova's Untitled from Six Prints, 1916-1917,13.5 by 10.25. This image from MoMA's feature on the artist







The wall on which the Kupkas are hung is a divider. (Each of the four galleries has a divider, however those in the other galleries are placed in the geographic center, whereas this one is placed so that it creates a vestibule for the second entrance to the exhibition. We'll get behind the wall in a moment.) To the left of the Kupka wall are small works by Jean (Hans) Arp, Hannah Hoch and Sophie Taeuber Arp.

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Left: Jean (Hans) Arp, Untitled (Collage with Squares Arranged According to the Laws of Chance), 1916-17, no size given but you can see the scale in the installation above

Right: Sophie Taeuber Arp, Echelonnement Desaxe, 1934, gouache on paper, 13 7/8 x 10 5/8. Both images from the MoMA website

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Mondrian before the boogie woogie: Pier and Ocean 5 (Sea and Starry Sky, 1915, charcoal and watercolor on paper, 34 5/8 x 44 inches

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On the other side of the Kupka wall is the Mondrian. I love the intersecting verticals and horizontals in an oval field, the whole contained with the horizontal rectangle of the frame placed against the larger vertical rectangle of the wall.

Behind your left shoulder as you look at the Mondrian are a collage each by Braque and Picasso, continuing their eternal conversation about Cubism. To the right of the Picasso is the entrance to Gallery 2, which is where we’re going in the next post.



Above: Georges Braque, Guitar, 1913, cut and pasted printed and painted paper, charcoal, pencil and gouache on gessoed canvas, 39 1/4 x 25 5/8 inches. Right, Pablo Picasso, Guitar, cut and pasted paper and printed paper, charcoal, ink and chalk on colored paper on board, 26 1/8 x 19 1/2 inches


Below: The entrance to Gallery 2, with a screenprint on plexiglass by Bridget Riley. This is where we'll begin next time


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6 comments:

vc said...

This was a really nice collection of stuff and I am glad to see you are covering it. It is really touching and also awesome (in the traditional sense of the word) to think that these artists thought they were revolutionizing reality. In a sense they were. I guess you'll get to the Heilmann, but I thought it was great.

Kupka and Popova are very interesting, the former having arrived at abstraction through a kind of mystical/expressive/symbolism with lots of musical references, and the latter having designed the stage set for the "constructivist opera" the Magnanamous Cuckold.

Joanne Mattera said...

Thanks, Vittorio. You summed up Kupka and Popova very nicely. They were the least interesting to me visually, though together they were given a great deal of space. I was much more taken with individual works from other artists, as I showed in the post.

As we get into the other three galleries--one per post, coming up--I'm much more excited about the entirety of the installation as well as of the individual works in it. I guess I'm a child of my time.

ken said...

Hi Joanne--

Thanks for posting about this-- the Malevich drawing with the two squares leaps out at me...

Carol Diehl said...

Thanks for making this record--I'm missing the show, which I heard was wonderful, and appreciate the review. Wondering if there was a catalogue....

Carol Diehl said...

PS: No catalogue, so your record is even more important.

Joanne Mattera said...

Thanks for the kind words, Carol. I couldn't find a catalog anywhere--this may be because these are all works from the collection (or because it's work on paper and thus not as 'important' as the Dali and Home shows upstairs). The missing catalog has spurred me into reportorial mode. All the pics are edited. I'm working on Part 2 today and will post by tomorrow.