Yoko Ono: Voice Piece for Soprano, Whisper Piece & Wish Tree at MoMA, Summer 2010

Yoko Ono will be performing occasionally in conjunction with the exhibition Contemporary Art from the Collection.

Exhibition on view through May 9, 2011
Voice Piece for Soprano presented through November 28, 2010.
Video courtesy of Yoko Ono

yoko ono moma nyc by luke kurtis

WISH TREE video by Mahmoud

The Museum of Modern Art has installed Yoko Ono’s “Wish Tree” in the Sculpture Garden as part of the new exhibit, Contemporary Art from the Collection. The tree has been drawing attention from a steady stream of museum visitors from all over the world who write their wishes on white paper tags and tie them on the tree branches. When the tree is completely covered with wishes, the paper tags are collected and placed in a glass box on the second floor of the museum. The Wish Tree is a tribute to Yoko Ono and John Lennon’s campaign for world peace. It was inspired by Yoko Ono’s childhood in Japan. When visiting a temple, she would write a wish on a piece of paper and attach it to a tree branch.

The Wish Tree installation runs through the Fall.

The video below from MOMA shows Yoko Ono writing her wish, as well as her performance in “Voice Piece for Soprano,” a participatory artwork at MOMA. Museum visitors are invited to take a microphone in the museum’s atrium and follow Ono’s instructions, posted on a wall to “Scream 1. against the wind; 2. against the wall; 3. against the sky.” The resulting screams are amplified throughout the galleries.

My Photo
Noel Y.C., New York (Manhattan), NEW YORK, United States

Yoko Ono. Selections from Whisper Piece (four shown of sixteen total; installation view at The Museum of Modern Art). 2010. Pen on wall, dimensions variable. Collection of the artist. Photo: Jason Persse

Yoko Ono. Selections from Whisper Piece (four shown of sixteen total; installation view at The Museum of Modern Art). 2010. Pen on wall, dimensions variable. Collection of the artist. Photo: Jason Persse

From a Whisper to a Scream: Following Yoko Ono’s Instructions

by Jason Persse, Inside Out

I first heard about Yoko Ono’s so-called “instruction pieces” as a high school student, when a friend told me the (possibly apocryphal, certainly embellished) story of Ono’s first meeting with John Lennon. History according to the poorly fact-checked lunchtime ramblings of rock ‘n’ roll–obsessed seventeen-year-olds: During a visit to London’s Indica Gallery in 1966, Lennon encountered Ono’s Ceiling Painting. Climbing to the top of a tall, white ladder, he used a magnifying glass dangling from a thread to read a message printed in tiny letters on the ceiling: “YES.” Profoundly moved by the work’s unalloyed positivity, he demanded to meet the artist right away.

That story probably rates a 40% score on the Historical Accuracy Meter, but the (surprisingly spot-on) description of Ceiling Painting captured my imagination. I was captivated by Ono’s notional art—especially her “instruction pieces,” which she describes as “paintings to be constructed in your head”—because it placed the onus of creation squarely on the “spectator.” So when I heard that some of Ono’s participatory pieces would be included in MoMA’s Contemporary Art from the Collection exhibition, I got ready to shoulder the spectator’s burden and help create some art.

I started in the Sculpture Garden with Wish Tree for MoMA. “Make a wish. Write it down on a piece of paper. Fold it and tie it around a branch of the wish tree. Ask your friend to do the same. Keep wishing.” No sweat! I added my wish to the hundreds of cards already hanging from the tree. (I would tell you what I wished for, but then I’d have to kill you.)

Next up was Whisper Piece, a series of sixteen instructions (like “Breathe heavily,” or “Smell the summer”) and affirmations (“You are beautiful,” for example) that Ono scrawled on the walls—and, in one case, the floor—of the second-floor Contemporary Galleries. (At one point a little girl asked me what I was doing squinting into a corner of the gallery, so I told her she had to find and follow the instructions, too. You can imagine my relief when I reached the exit without encountering instructions to steal a painting.) Following what few explicit instructions there were was no problem, and being told repeatedly that I was beautiful and loved did wonders for my self-esteem. The hard part was locating all sixteen tiny whispers.

Finally I returned to the Museum’s grand Marron Atrium, which currently contains Ono’s 1961 “instruction painting” Voice Piece for Soprano—”Scream. 1. against the wind 2. against the wall 3. against the sky”—along with a microphone and a pair of very loud speakers. I stared at the microphone for a while as a perfectly reasonable voice in my head informed me that I would not, under any circumstances, make a loud noise in a museum. Fifteen long minutes later, after watching several brave souls roar their hearts out in defiance of all propriety, I stepped up to the mic and let out a trio of wavering screams, each slightly less pathetic than the last.

And then it was over. Yoko and I had done it! Together we’d created a work of exhilarating, defiant, liberating art that turned heads, startled passersby, and covered me in a fine sheen of flop sweat. Besides, who hasn’t always wanted to let out a good scream at the office?

Photos from the MoMA opening

Above Photos by Anne Terada © 2010 Yoko Ono

Between a Dance and a Scream: A Q&A with Yoko Ono

Yoko Ono performing her "Voice Piece For Soprano" at MoMA, NY

by Sarah Douglas, Art Info

NEW YORK— To say that Yoko Ono’s Voice Piece for Soprano is the most visible artwork in MoMA’s recent reinstallation of its contemporary art galleries is both unimpeachably accurate and totally wrong. Wrong in the sense that the piece is not visible at all; right in the sense that you can’t possibly miss it. Voice Piece for Soprano is a participatory artwork. Museum visitors are invited to take a microphone in the museum’s atrium and follow Ono’s instructions, posted a wall, to “Scream. 1. against the wind; 2. against the wall; 3. against the sky.” The resulting screams are amplified throughout the galleries.

As zeitgeisty as the piece seems (there is much to scream about these days, from the oil spill on down to Tea Party antics), Ono created it back in 1961. In the late 1950s, she and her then-husband, Japanese experimental musician Ichiyanagi Toshi, became part of the constellation of creative types around avant-garde musician John Cage, and Ono began experimenting with “instruction works” or “event scores.” She published more than 150 of them, including Voice Piece for Soprano, in her 1964 artist’s book Grapefruit.

Yoko Ono's "Wish Tree" in the garden of the Museum of Modern Art

Voice Piece isn’t the only artwork of Ono’s on view at MoMA right now. The reinstallation’s organizers — MoMA associate director, Kathy Halbreich, and curator Christophe Cherix — have also included Whisper Piece, a series of messages Ono has scribbled on the museum’s walls, and Wish Piece, which Ono has been creating in various versions since 1996, and which invites museum visitors to write their wishes on a piece of paper and place these on a tree in the sculpture garden. In fact, the presence of Ono’s work in the show turns out to be one of its highlights — so visible is she in New York as John Lennon’s widow and onetime musical collaborator that it is sometimes easy to forget that her career as a conceptual artist in her own right both pre- and post-dated her marriage to the former Beatle. Ono spoke with Sarah Douglas about protest songs, the power of wishing, and how a whisper can sometimes be a scream — and vice versa.

Yoko Ono's "Whisper Piece" on a wall of the Museum of Modern Art

When I went to MoMA a couple of weeks ago for the opening of the reinstallation of the contemporary art galleries, I was taken aback by all these screams echoing through the galleries, and realized it was museum visitors taking the microphone for your Voice Piece for Soprano. I don’t think MoMA has ever done anything quite like this before. The effect is dramatic.

It’s pretty radical, don’t you think?

Absolutely. The instructions you give for the piece are: “Scream. 1. against the wind; 2. against the wall; 3. against the sky.” What was your inspiration for this, back in 1961? Wasn’t that right around the time you met George Maciunas and became part of the Fluxus group?

I met George Maciunas after I started doing things like this. The inspiration was that I was feeling very rebellious as a woman. The wind, the wall, the sky didn’t represent men, but they were situations in life that you have to scream against.

As a form of resistance?

That’s exactly what I thought of women doing. If they don’t do it, they hold back their emotions and become ill. It’s very healthy to scream.

So these could be screams in protest?

Yes. It’s a protest song.

That fits nicely with the theme of the new reinstallation at MoMA: current events from the past 40 years, and how they’ve shaped artists’ works. What’s it like to see Voice Piece for Soprano in this context?

There are so many instructions in [my book] Grapefruit and I didn’t remember this one very well. Then, five or six years ago, I wanted to do a piece outdoors at a museum in Europe. I was going through Grapefruit, and I thought, Voice Piece for Soprano will do. I sent it to them, and it seemed like it was a very successful event. So I started to think, this is a big one. It could be paired with my Cut Piece, [a piece first performed in 1964, in which audience members took turns using a pair of scissors to gradually cut off all of Ono’s clothes] in terms of protest and rebelliousness. I thought, “Wow, this is great!” but then I moved on to do other things. Then, MoMA said they wanted to do this one, and I said, “Oh, really?” Because I always thought MoMA was very quiet.

Not anymore.

I feel very guilty about that, in a way. But I’m not the one who chose it. I just don’t want to give any trouble to anybody, comically. I suppose this is okay!

Well, then again, its effect isn’t really up to you, is it? It depends on the reaction of the audience. Cut Piece, which you just mentioned, is the same sort of situation. You’ve talked about how that piece has been very different depending on where you’ve performed it. I remember reading that the audience in Japan was shy, whereas in London people became very avid and almost violent about cutting your clothes off. With Voice Piece for Soprano at MoMA — as far as I can tell, New Yorkers really like to scream.

It might tone down a bit. Initially people really want to scream but then they might start to want to make it into a more musical kind of expression. I don’t know which way it will go.

It’s interesting that one of your pieces at MoMA involves screaming, and another is called Whisper Piece. How do you think they relate to each other?

It’s very interesting because Whisper Piece might be a scream, and the scream piece might be a whisper. In the big picture, in the whole of the planet, a scream is definitely just a whisper. And the 16 written whispers in Whisper Piece could add up to a big scream, conceptually.

You said before that screaming is healthy. I can’t help but think of Arthur Janov’s primal scream therapy, which you and John Lennon became interested in in the 1970s.

Janov sent his book to us when we were living in England. John looked at it and said, “Primal scream? That’s you!” We got so many books, but this one, because the title said “Primal Scream,” we thought there was a connection between my work and it, so John read it. If anything, primal therapy was influenced by me. I’m pretty humble about things. I don’t like to say, “They came after me!” But I also realize that by being so humble I’m doing a disfavor to women in society. So I do want to say what I did.

But it’s also interesting that art sometimes influences the development of non-art things, like therapeutic techniques, or science.

And it did. It’s very interesting, because I was always thinking about it that way. I thought, this artwork, if it’s a really good artwork, has to have everything in it to change the world. To change the world, you need both art and science. I think it’s a kind of a merging of art and science.

Where else in your work do you see that kind of relationship?

Well, like the Wish Piece. Just to wish for something — and you don’t even have to write it down and put it on the tree or anything, but it’s stronger when you do that. Then your wish and other people’s wishes merge in one tree — that, too, is very scientific, actually.

Really? In what sense?

The vibration of wishing is going to be there. It’s no longer something that just came into your head and went away. You have stated it. And then you allow your statement to be on the tree — which is a kind of exposure — along with other wishes. And that becomes extremely strong. And then they are sent to the Imagine Peace tower in Iceland [a memorial to John Lennon inaugurated in 2007, where over 500,000 wishes from the Wish Trees have already been gathered].

Speaking of voices coming together, Voice Piece for Soprano has been appropriated at least once. On the band Sonic Youth’s 1999 album SYR4: Goodbye to the 20th Century, it’s performed by band leadersKim Gordon and Thurston Moore’s five year old daughter. What did you think of that?

The way I see it, I made the initial movement, and then it went everywhere, and that’s very beautiful. I’m very happy that this creates some kind of movement.

You performed the piece again yourself at the MoMA opening a few weeks ago. What was that like for you? Was it just as cathartic as it was the first time you did it?

Definitely. I have a lot of emotion inside of me. When I saw the microphone, I just felt like doing it. I think that’s very true of me in general. When I hear music, my body starts to move, and I’m dancing. Between a dance and a scream: well, that’s me.

Photos courtesy of MoMA

Commentary That’s Both Visual and Vocal

By Karen Rosenberg, NY Times

Marina Abramovic’s survey has come and gone, but another longtime performance artist is at large in the Museum of Modern Art. You probably won’t see this one, but you’ll definitely hear visitors carrying out her instructions to step up to a microphone and scream.

That is Yoko Ono, who is reprising her “Voice Piece for Soprano,” originally from 1961, and other pieces as part of MoMA’s latest reinstallation of its contemporary galleries. Like previous exhibitions in the series, “Contemporary Art From the Collection” presents a loosely thematic take on art since the late ’60s. But it’s also a shock to the system, not unlike the screeches and shrieks that emanate from the atrium.

Its stated focus is “current events from the past 40 years,” made literal in Robert Rauschenberg’s 60-foot screenprint of press clippings from 1970, “Currents,” but otherwise suspiciously broad-sounding. (What contemporary art isn’t, in some way, about current events?) Really, though, it’s about the different ways that art can convey urgency and immediacy.

Thus the organizers — the museum’s associate director, Kathy Halbreich, and the curator Christophe Cherix, serve up plenty of performance and performance leftovers. Both are making their first big statements with the contemporary collection, though since arriving at the museum in 2008, they’ve worked on smaller shows, like Ms. Halbreich’s “9 Screens” and Mr. Cherix’s {ldquo}In & Out of Amsterdam.{rdquo}

Ms. Halbreich, formerly the director of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, deftly weaves film and video into the mix: short, saucy pieces by Kalup Linzy and Hannah Wilke, and longer, more intense ones by Glenn Ligon and Paul Sharits. Mr. Cherix’s touch can be felt in the many works from his department: prints and illustrated books.

Each has made some inspired choices, in the selection and the installation. They pick uncharacteristic works by the artists we know well, and turn up major statements by the ones we don’t. (And, yes, a healthy percentage of the art is by women; a set of posters by the Guerrilla Girls reminds you that this is a relatively new development.)

Among the gems the curators have unearthed is a bridge made of linked pads of steel wool, by the Arte Povera sculptor Pino Pascali; it shares a small gallery with a body-impression drawing by David Hammons, a photograph by Sigmar Polke and a puddle of white spray lacquer by Lawrence Weiner.

The curators also mine the Gilbert and Lila Silverman Fluxus Collection, a 2009 gift of some 3,000 works relating to the Fluxus movement. This explains Ms. Ono’s prominence in the atrium (“Voice Piece for Soprano”) and the sculpture garden (“Wish Tree,” 1996/2010). And in “Whisper Piece” she’s written brief invocations in tiny handwriting on walls throughout the exhibition.

Another Fluxus artist, Alison Knowles, will perform a version of a work from 1969 titled “The Identical Lunch.” Beginning next January, after the exhibition has closed, she’ll serve the same meal — a tuna fish sandwich — to all visitors in the second-floor cafe. In the meantime you can see vintage photographs of her friends and colleagues eating their sandwiches.

And just below Ms. Knowles’s photographs, a major installation by an underrated elder statesman of Fluxus, George Maciunas, incorporates emptied lemonade cans, sugar boxes and other containers: the remains of food and household products consumed by the artist over a period of one year.

Other bodycentric art is summarily acknowledged in a small gallery of ephemera. Here are the provocative posters and Artforum advertisements through which Robert Morris and Lynda Benglis waged gender war, as well as grainy 1972 Super 8 footage of Vito Acconci performing his autoerotic “Seedbed.”

The show’s most memorable performance, though, belongs to Ms. Wilke. In a video made in 1976 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the distractingly stylish artist struts and strips behind Duchamp’s {ldquo}Large Glass.{rdquo}

At this stage of the exhibition, the dearth of painting becomes hard to ignore. It’s remedied soon enough, with dueling stripes by Daniel Buren and Agnes Martin and a mesmerizing multicolored abstraction by Simon Hantai. Let the others have their Minimalism and institutional critique; the only theory in Mr. Hantai’s “Untitled (Suite ‘Blancs’),” made by painting exposed parts of a crumpled canvas, is string theory.

Even better is the gallery devoted to the 1980s, partly covered in General Idea’s {ldquo}AIDS (Wallpaper).{rdquo} Modeled on Robert Indiana’s “LOVE” letters, it makes a striking background for Warhol’s immense gold Rorschach painting and Bruce Nauman’s drawing “Punch and Judy II Birth & Life & Sex & Death.” The elements of the installation are so carefully interwoven that the show starts to look like a Biennial, in a good way.

The final section, though, has some of the not-so-good hallmarks of Biennials: uninspired found-object tweaking, meaningless clustering and text that’s full of curatorspeak (“willful mistranslation”). The sweet scent of Cildo Meireles’s hay-bale cube, “Thread,” helps a bit, as do strong drawings and prints by Huang Yong Ping and Huma Bhabha.

The intensity picks up again at the show’s end, with an installation that documents Paul Chan’s {ldquo}Waiting for Godot in New Orleans.{rdquo} Mr. Chan’s 2007 staging of that Beckett play in the Katrina-scarred Lower Ninth Ward was, by all accounts, a profound and cathartic event.

Some of those emotions get lost in Mr. Chan’s exhaustive archive of audio, video, photographs, maps and props. But they return, suddenly, with a scream.

“Contemporary Art From the Collection” continues through Sept. 12 at the Museum of Modern Art; (212) 708-9400, moma.org.

Toys from MoMA’s attic

by Barbara Hoffman, New York Post

If you feel a giddy rush of nostalgia at MoMA’s new show, then you were probably around (and conscious) in the ’60s and ’70s.

It was a time when current events — war, social unrest and creeping gentrification — found their way onto canvas, and folks such as Robert Rauschenberg, Yoko Ono and Robert Mapplethorpe were thinking way out of the box.

Those three and nearly 60 others are represented in “Contemporary Art From the Collection,” a show that’s, by turns, provocative, poignant and stupefying.

From the 150,000 or so objects in MoMA’s collection, curators Kathy Halbreich and Christophe Cherix have plucked 130 works dating from the late ’60s to the present. Many, either for lack of space or context, have languished in MoMA’s storage lockers for years.

So it’s thrilling to see, say, Kara Walker’s 50-foot-long installation with a title nearly as unwieldy: “Gone: An Historical Romance of a Civil War as It Occurred b’tween the Dusky Thighs of One Young Negress and Her Heart,” a slyly subversive take on Victorian-era silhouettes, suffused with sex and violence.

Also new are Pino Pascali’s “Bridge,” in which braided steel wool masquerades as Tarzan-esque vines, and David Hammons’ untitled “body print,” a ghostly image of the artist himself, hands clasped in prayer. To make it, Hammons greased his body, pressed against the canvas and sprinkled charcoal or pigment over the result — not an art form you see every day.

It’s hard to look away from George Maciunas’ “One Year,” the neatly stacked accumulation of a year’s detritus from 1973 SoHo. The Lithuanian-born artist was one of the first to colonize that once-seedy section of the city; his towering columns of cottage cheese lids, instant dry-milk containers and Maalox give new meaning to the phrase “starving artist.”

If the show has a patron saint, it’s Yoko Ono, whose works pop up all over. There’s her “Wishing Tree” in the Sculpture Garden (“Write a wish, tie it to the tree”), her scribbled instructions on the gallery walls (“Breathe. Breathe deeply.”) and a microphone in the atrium, the better to perform her “Voice Piece for Soprano,” with its injunctions to “scream — against the wind, against the wall, against the sky.” Some might find it fearless; others fey. Your call.

Scattered here and there are posters by the Guerrilla Girls; a trio of Mapplethorpe self-portraits, all yearning eyes and parted lips; and an Andy Warhol “Rorshach.”

MoMA’s audio headsets are free — and should be, with that $20 admission — so grab one, if only to hear Gedi Sibony try to explain how a vertical blind splayed out on the floor expresses “The Middle of the World.”

Still, if anything here shakes up your thoughts about art — what it is, what it says about our lives — it’s worth a look and a listen.

“Contemporary Art From the Collection” at MoMA, 11 W. 53rd St.; 212-708-9431, moma.org.

Contemporary Art from the Collection

June 30, 2010–September 12, 2011
The Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53 Street  New York, NY 10019
(212) 708-9400 |  Contact Us |  Hours

Exhibition Features Prominent Installations by Paul Chan, General Idea, Yoko Ono, Pino Pascali, and Kara Walker, Among Others

NEW YORK – Contemporary Art from the Collection, a complete reinstallation of The Museum of Modern Art’s 14,740-square-foot galleries for contemporary art, offers a focused examination of artistic practice since the late 1960s and how current events from the last 40 years have shaped artists’ work.

On view from June 30, 2010, to September 12, 2011, the installation presents approximately 130 works by over 60 artists, including Lynda Benglis, Daniel Buren, Paul Chan, General Idea, the Guerrilla Girls, David Hammons, Yoko Ono, and Kara Walker. Contemporary Art from the Collection is the most recent installation of these galleries, which are regularly reconfigured and reinstalled to display the Museum’s vast collection and to allow visitors to explore the art of today. Many of the works are on view for the first time since their acquisition, including works by Hammons, Kalup Linzy, Pino Pascali, and Robert Rauschenberg, among others. Contemporary Art from the Collection is organized by Kathy Halbreich, Associate Director, and Christophe Cherix, Curator, Department of Prints and Illustrated Books, The Museum of Modern Art.

As part of the exhibition, several projects are on view throughout other parts of the Museum, including the Donald B. and Catherine C. Marron Atrium, The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden, and Cafe 2, where a series of performances will take place beginning in January 2011. Kara Walker’s 50-foot-long wall installation Gone: An Historical Romance of a Civil War as It Occurred b’tween the Dusky Thighs of One Young Negress and Her Heart (1994) is on view in the Marron Atrium through November 29, 2010. First exhibited in her 1994 New York debut, the piece inaugurated the artist’s signature medium: meticulous black cutout silhouettes of caricatured antebellum figures arranged on a white wall in uncanny, sexualized, and often violent scenarios. In the work’s elaborate title, “Gone” refers to Margaret Mitchell’s 1936 best-selling melodramatic novel Gone with the Wind, set during the American Civil War. While Walker’s narrative begins and ends with coupled figures, the work’s tragicomic chain of turbulent imagery refutes the promise of romance and confounds straightforward definitions of power.

Across from Walker’s installation in the Marron Atrium, Yoko Ono’s Voice Piece for Soprano (1961/2010) is also on view through November 29, 2010. A microphone stands near a set of instructions silkscreened onto the atrium wall: “Scream: against the wind, against the wall, against the sky.” Throughout the run of the installation, MoMA visitors are invited to follow the instructions, and, in addressing both the public and the institution, become participants in the work. Additional interventions by Ono are also on view, including Wish Tree (1996/2010), installed within the Sculpture Garden. For this piece, visitors are provided with a pen and paper; after writing a “wish,” they then attach the paper tag to the tree. The “wish tags” are removed from the tree intermittently and collected all together in a large box displayed within the second-floor galleries.

Within the exhibition galleries, works follow a chronological path, with pieces by Robert Rauschenberg, George Maciunas, Pino Pascali, Adrian Piper, and Gordon Matta-Clark, among others, on view in the exhibition’s opening galleries. On view for the first time at MoMA, Rauschenberg’s Currents (1970) is a 60-foot-long screenprint composed of press clippings from that time period. A Maciunas work—drawn from the Museum’s recent acquisition of the Gilbert and Lila Silverman Fluxus Collection—features hundreds of empty containers from products that Maciunas consumed during one year, systematically stacked in tall columns and displayed against the wall. A notable piece from Pascali is on view for the first time at the Museum: Bridge, a 26-foot-long sculptural installation composed of steel wool braided by the artist.

Also drawn from the Museum’s Fluxus Collection, a series of screenprinted canvases from Alison Knowles’s The Identical Lunch (1969) show the artist’s friends and colleagues each eating the same lunch of a tuna fish sandwich. In conjunction with this presentation, Knowles will perform this work in the Museum’s Cafe 2, beginning in January 2011. The artist will serve MoMA visitors “the identical lunch” twice a week at an assigned table within the restaurant. Starting January 3, 2011, MoMA visitors can sign up at moma.org/contemporarygalleries for one of the scheduled seatings.

One gallery is devoted to Paul Sharits’s Ray Gun Virus (1966). Sharits, a key figure in a group of structural filmmakers that emerged in the 1960s, rejected conventional cinematic techniques of illusionism and narrative. In creating Ray Gun Virus, Sharits filmed monochrome sheets of colored paper and edited the footage into precisely syncopated visual rhythms, creating an oscillating effect that produces a range of optical phenomena in the spectator’s vision.

A section of the exhibition focuses on the late 1960s and early 1970s and the role of painting and sculpture at that time, including works by Daniel Buren, Simon Hantaï, Agnes Martin, Marisa Merz, Keith Sonnier, and a sculpture by Jackie Winsor. While some artists, such as Mel Bochner, rejected painting and the sculptural object outright, calling for a “dematerialization” of the art object altogether, Sonnier and Merz collapsed the distinctions between painting and sculpture, employing commercial or industrial materials to tie their work more closely to the life of the street. With a similar skepticism, Hantaï responded to Abstract Expressionism by reinterpreting its processes using a technique in which he crumpled a canvas into a large bunch, painted the exposed areas, then stretched it to reveal large abstractions. In Untitled (Suite “Blancs”) (1973), Hantaï also engages both sides of the canvas, using the back of an earlier oil painting as his support; faint color patches from the original work are visible within the colorful pattern, fulfilling the artist’s desire to “draw out the qualities of the reverse.” Buren similarly found a way around the artist’s traditional, heroic confrontation with the blank canvas, choosing readymade fabrics as his supports and developing rigorous conceptual systems to guide his practice. On view are Buren’s White Acrylic Painting on White and Anthracite Gray Striped Cloth (1966) and Black and white striped cloth. External white bands covered over with white paint, recto-verso (1970).

The following section of the exhibition is dedicated to the 1980s, a time in which many artists adopted strategies of reproduction, repetition, and appropriation, building on Andy Warhol’s self-proclaimed desire to be “a machine.” This generation came of age as digital technology entered the marketplace, and with computers dramatically increasing both access to information and the amount of information available, artists began to question the necessity of inventing new imagery. Instead, they began to adapt or recontextualize existing material, drawing equally from popular sources and art history. On view is Sherrie Levine’s Untitled (Mr. Austridge: 2) (1989), one of a series of paintings which are identical except for the grain of the wood support. Lifted from the popular Krazy Kat cartoons of the 1920s, the ostrich character at the center of the work avoids the challenges of the world around it by burying its head in a can. Drawn by George Herriman, who was born to a Creole African-American family but whose death certificate identified him as Caucasian, the Krazy Kat comic strips depict a love triangle whose characters shift gender and ethnicity. By borrowing the language and techniques of mass media, Levine and other artists analyzed and exposed previously hidden relationships among the production, presentation, and commodification of art. With a lacerating irony, they also examined the ways in which the mass media and art shape collective and individual identities.

The irony that replaced faith in the formulas of the past for many artists of this generation betrays the melancholy of a period in which the AIDS crisis continued, hitting the arts community with particular ferocity. General Idea’s AIDS (Wallpaper) (1988), which replaces Robert Indiana’s iconic “LOVE” slogan with the repetition of the word “AIDS,” is on view. Several works in this section address other social, political, or cultural concerns, including a selection of posters by the artist collective Guerrilla Girls that question the role of women in museums and the art world; David Hammons’s African-American Flag (1990), which replaces the colors of the American flag with red, black, and green, the colors of the Pan-African flag; and Bruce Nauman’s sexually and violently explicit large-scale drawing Punch and Judy II Birth & Life & Sex & Death (1985). Similarly, Felix Gonzales-Torres confronted the personal and political dimensions of the crisis, with Untitled (Supreme Majority) (1991). In Gonzales-Torres’s installation seven paper cones are arranged on the floor, appearing simultaneously fragile and piercing. The work’s title recalls both the Supreme Court’s 1986 decision to uphold the criminalization of homosexuality and the political potency of the rising Moral Majority.

In an adjoining gallery Glenn Ligon’s 23-minute video The Death of Tom (2008) plays in a continuous loop. For this project, Ligon had initially intended to create a reconstruction of the last scene of a 1903 silent film adaptation of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s famous 1852 novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin. After Ligon’s film was processed, he discovered that the film was blurred and that his original imagery had disappeared. Recognizing an affinity between this spectral film footage and his earlier non-video work dealing with legibility, Ligon left the footage unedited and added a commissioned score played by the jazz pianist Jason Moran, based on the vaudeville song “Nobody.”

The works in the final section, most produced within the last decade, hint at a willful mistranslation of earlier forms of painting and object-making and a critique of artistic practice itself; an ambivalent relationship to any sense of classical order pervades. On view in this section is Huang Yong Ping’s Long Scroll (2001), a 50-foot-long scroll of which 12 feet will be viewable at any one time. A Chinese expatriate who resides in France, Huang uses sources drawn from Western and Chinese art history in order to reveal the polyvalent nature of global modernity. This particular work takes the form of a traditional Chinese scroll and is executed in a style that reveals Huang’s classical training. A kind of self-portrait, the work is a nonhierarchical visual compendium of the artist’s career and wide-ranging influences, including Marcel Duchamp. Also on view is Lucy McKenzie’s untitled painting from 2002, which combines references as diverse as the traditions of socialist mural painting, the Braun appliance logo, bawdy graffiti, and the history of feminist labor. In this vein, painters such as Sergej Jensen take modern painting as both model and myth; Jensen’s torque hemp canvas, Untitled (2008), is an ironic rethinking of the exacting geometric compositions of midcentury modern painters. Gedi Sibony’s sculpture of collapsed vertical blinds, The Middle of the World (2008), suggests the challenges of vision, both literally and metaphorically.

The exhibition concludes with an assembled archive by Paul Chan, related to his restaging of Samuel Beckett’s 1948–49 play Waiting for Godot on the streets of New Orleans shortly after Hurricane Katrina. In assembling an archive rather than producing art objects, Chan stresses the collaborative community-oriented process involved in the project, and shows how, in the face of social, political, and environmental collapse, there might be an antidote to the alienation of contemporary life in such collaborations.

BNY Mellon

This exhibition, one of a series highlighting the Museum’s contemporary collection, is made possible by BNY Mellon.

Contemporary Art from the Collection

Friday, July 9, 2010, 11:30 a.m
Sunday, July 11, 2010, 1:30 p.m.
Sunday, July 18, 2010, 11:30 a.m.
Thursday, July 29, 2010, 1:30 p.m.

MoMA Reception


Associate Director for MOMA Kathy Halbreich and artist Yoko Ono attend the opening reception for the reinstallation of contemporary art from the collection at MOMA on June 29, 2010 in New York, City.

MoMA Performance

NEW YORK – JUNE 29: Artist Yoko Ono attends the opening reception for the reinstallation of contemporary art from the collection at MOMA on June 29, 2010 in New York, City.

Yoko Ono performs Voice Piece for Soprano (1961/2010) which is also on view through November 29, 2010. A microphone stands near a set of instructions silkscreened onto the atrium wall: “Scream: against the wind, against the wall, against the sky.” Throughout the run of the installation, MoMA visitors are invited to follow the instructions, and, in addressing both the public and the institution, become participants in the work.