MET FOLLIES AND OTHER COMPLAINTS


  Pet Peeves


Complaints will not be a constant theme, for their impact is diminished by frequency. Besides, I am, as friends and even enemies will testify, even-tempered and not quick to complain. But sometimes you just can’t hold it in.


Poodle poop in the Chelsea art district is an increasing blight. If you are going to live in that trendy neighborhood with a Comme des Garcons store as your only haberdashery, do as others must do: scoop the poop. I don’t know if you live in Chelsea (more and more do) or you just bring your poodle to work because after all, sitting in a gallery can be a lonely job, but you know who you are. Until spring comes – if it does indeed arrive – it’s easy enough for a visitors like myself to kick the little pellets off the icy walks, but once the weather changes there will be treachery afoot.


Worse yet is cellphone blight. I am a cellphone user myself, when I remember to stick it in my pocket, as in “phone-booth-in-your-pocket.” I never use my cellphone in my car. It’s against the law I’m told, but as a pedestrian I am used to nearly being run over by one-armed drivers. I might at some point attempt a citizen’s arrest.



I am also used to couples holding hands as they walk, their outside hands clamping cellphones to their outside ears and, yes, they are talking to their phones and not to each other. Or maybe they are talking to each other, using their cells as a distancing device. If they are in Chelsea they inevitably step right on rather than over the poodle poop. In case you wondered, this is why galleries have polished cement for floors rather than wood or wool.


As a naturally curious person, I really want to know what everyone is talking about as they walk the streets. Judging from Amtrak and Long Island Railroad experience, such important issues as 1% or 2% milk are under debate.


But what I am not used to and will never get used to is cellphone conversations in art galleries. Recently, a young lady one Saturday let everyone in the gallery know all of her evening plans. She and whomever she was shouting to decided on Mystic River rather than Cold Mountain. They chose when and where and even what to eat: pizza pie. She did indeed say “pizza pie.” Some of us, believe it or not, were not interested, as she marched around with her cellphone and her Day-Runner, demonstrating a bad case of what I call the-world-is-my-living-room syndrome. We were trying to watch and listen to a videotape, but if the truth be known, her impolite and soon to be illegal behavior would have been rage-inducing even if we had only been trying to look at a painting.


The next week I noticed a “No Cellphones” sign at O.K. Harris in Soho. I hope it spreads to other galleries. In Artopia we confiscate cellphones at the door and melt them in the back room. But only after stripping the auto-dial numbers, later to be used for obscene phone calls claiming to come from their owners.


And in museums? Since Audio-Guides seem to be required, there’s no room for rude and soon-to-be-illegal cellphone usage. Museums have other problems. Can I mention stupid wall texts and messy toilets?



Madness at the Met


I made the big mistake of going to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see “Playing with Fire: European Terra-Cotta Models, 1740-1840.” Why? A thousand times I ask myself why, why on earth was I lured into such a mind-numbing adventure? Well, I like clay. Sadly, only three or four of the fired clay figurines are rough enough to be expressive and worth looking at.


The little terra-cotta statues – some of them quite ornate – are mainly models for marble sculptures or sometimes bronze monuments. Some, it’s true, are the demonstrations of skill once required by various art academies or, perish the thought, works in themselves.


Other than the often noted truism that the bigger the banner over the entranceway, the more trivial the show inside, there are four things this exhibition proves:


1. Bad taste is eternal. No amount of art-historical detective work can justify this honorific display of pseudo-art. If you hate academic sculpture, as I do, you are really going to hate these banal studies.


2. In her neat piece in the N.Y.Times, Grace Glueck let it slip there is now a growing market for this fancywork. Could the Met’s inflated display of mostly pointless scholarship be market-driven? Just because it no doubt cost huge amounts of time and money and academic energy to track down these dainty exercises in bad taste does not mean they are worth looking at. Or buying.


3. There is a reason why we like Rodin more than what went on before. There is a reason for modernism too: academic terra-cotta figurines.


4. People, whether of the time these allegorical whimsies were made or even shockingly in the present day, will gladly look at art as long it shows naked breasts and bare butts. What we have is culturally sanctified soft -porn.


Then I made an even bigger mistake, I stopped off to see a small exhibition called “Significant Objects from the Modern Design Collection.” The wall text says “Industrial design is a recent area of collection for the Metropolitan Museum of Art.” Is this really true? I seem to remember seeing some spectacular photographs from the Thirties that documented the exhibition of an office by Raymond Loewy. Institutional history gets buried along with everything else. If the Met did not collect industrial design, it certainly exhibited it.


In any case, the current offering is the usual hodge-podge. Of course, you can’t go wrong with a little radio by Phillipe Starck. Or a famous Memphis bookcase by Ettore Sottsass.


Then, turning a corner, what did I see? A sculpture by Harvey Littleton: Amber Bust, 1976. What? Because the Littleton is made of glass, does that make it industrial design? Even worse, next to it is a wallpiece by Michael Aschenbrenner, his emotionally powerful Damaged Bone Series from 1990. Inspired by the artist’s experiences in Vietnam, it is composed of glass “bones” combined with various other media. It looks like sculpture, it feels like sculpture, it was made as sculpture, and the collector who donated it bought it thinking it was sculpture. But here it is proudly displayed in the context of industrial design. Clearly it was not machine-made and was not mass-produced and it is certainly not functional. Are the Met’s departmental categories so rigid and out of date that a mistake like this was allowed to happen? What can the public make of it?


Like most omnibus museums based upon an academic template, the Metropolitan has only a decorative arts department and not a craft department, which, because glass is used here, might embrace these orphan works. Surely a craft department would have its own problems. (I don’t have the time or the patience to go through that again.) But putting these two works in what purports to be a display of industrial design from the permanent collection, no matter what the departmental fiefdoms backstage, is ludicrous. It is insulting to the artists and to the public.

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