Lame Adventure 404: Morons Mingling with Magritte

As tempting as it is to hash incessantly on this site about the foibles, peccadilloes and images of winter, give it up for Milton who decided that it was time to go indoors now that it is once again mild outside. Last Friday, we headed to the Museum of Modern Art to view “Mystery of the Ordinary”, an exhibit of the work produced by the Belgian surrealist René Magritte in the years from 1926 to 1938.

We decided to go on Friday after we were cut loose from our respective grinds. From 4 pm until closing admission is my second favorite four-letter f-word.

Free with ticket.

Free with ticket.

In addition, Friday was our last chance to see this show for zero cents because it closed the following Sunday. It travels next to the Menil Collection in Houston, and after that to the Art Institute of Chicago.

MoMA allows visitors to view the exhibit, but whether you pay or not, signs announced that photography was forbidden. This makes sense because MoMA wants visitors to purchase the catalogue. There were guards hovering approximately every two feet bellowing reminders:

Guards: No photography!

Sign outside exhibit entrance with human fur ball in corner.

Sign outside exhibit entrance with human fur ball in corner.

These words of warning, that were repeated often, had little impact on the iPhone wielding masses. We did not see any guards asking violators to delete their images. We were certain that if either of us had tried to snap so much as a corner of a picture frame with our phones, not only would our phones be confiscated, but also our hands severed. For those of you curious to see a glimpse of the many iconic Magritte paintings in this show, the New York Times was granted permission to snap away. Click here to see their photos.

Milton could not believe how crowded it was to see a display of familiar paintings in person that everyone has seen reproduced a million times. There was the train coming out of the fireplace, the big eye and guys in bowler hats. What blew his mind even more was that there were two lines: one for fare beaters like us, and another, for members. MoMA membership allows free admission all year round. That prompted Milton to ask:

Milton: What kind of idiot would attend on a free night?

Members had since late September to see this exhibit six days a week before the final 4-8 pm Friday night free-for-all. Possibly, a member who would be unfazed about attending with the herd is This Woman who announced:

This Woman: A lot of the pipe-ones are famous.

Full confession: we walked through the entirety of the exhibit twice because I was obsessed with seeing The Son of Man, the painting of a guy in a bowler hat with an apple obscuring his face. You know the one. I insisted to Milton that it had to be there. We were baffled how we could have missed it. Milton suggested:

Milton: Maybe it’s very small.

We approached the human equivalent of the Jolly Green Giant, a guard so tall I addressed his belt buckle:

Me: Excuse me, but can you tell us where’s the painting of the guy wearing the bowler hat with the apple in front of his face?

Guard: I think I’ve seen it here. Look in the back, unless it’s not there.

Me: Okay. Thank you very much.

We proceeded to circle the exhibit again for that second time. Milton’s head was spinning:

Milton: That was a complete non-answer! It might be there, or it might not!

But, if it was, we missed it a second time.

Milton: Maybe it’s on loan or on another floor in the permanent collection?

Me: If it’s in this building, it has to be included in this exhibit. It would be idiocy to exclude it!

We left the exhibit and leafed through the entire catalogue. Son of Man was not there. When I returned home, I researched that painting online. Magritte painted it in 1964. Who’s the industrial-strength idiot now?

A post-script: after we completed our two visits to the Magritte exhibit, we wandered next door to the much less attended Isa Genzken retrospective that is running through March 10. MoMA calls Genzken, “arguably one of the most important and influential female artists of the past 30 years.” Milton’s initial impression of her work was a tad different:

Milton: This reminds me of bad houses in the 70s.

We were allowed to photograph her work at will. Here is a sampling of what’s on display.

70s-type thing.

70s-type thing that irked Milton.

Welcome and photograph your heart out!

Welcome and photograph your heart out!

Lady Gaga look-alike.

Channeling Lady Gaga.

Baby in the corner.

Isa leaves baby in the corner.

My brain. 1984 (Note: actual name of piece and sign of sense of humor. We hope.)

Pile of Rubbish. 1984

Pile of Rubbish. 1984 (Note: actual name of piece.)

World Receiver. 1988-1989. Apparently Isa created dozens of concrete receivers in the early 1990s.

World Receiver. 1988-1989. (Note: Isa created dozens of concrete receivers in the early 1990s.)

What are we looking at?

The joke’s on us piece. No clue what we’re looking at. This was one in a series.

Milton's trash is Isa's art.

Milton’s trash is Isa’s art.

"Milton, watch out — don't step on the Barbie on the floor!"

“Milton, watch out — don’t step on the Barbie on the floor!”

Milton, "This could be my room."

Milton, “This could be my room.”

Executive office with Scrooge McDuck.

Executive office with Scrooge McDuck on desk reminding wage slaves who’s in charge.

Milton, "This is something interesting. I don't know what."

Milton, “This is something interesting. I don’t know what.”

"Why didn't we think of this?"

“Why didn’t we think of this?”

On closer inspection: packed with teeny, tiny toy cars.

On closer inspection: packed with teeny, tiny toy cars.

Isa display on MoMA's first floor lobby for those feeling it for luggage lost at the airport.

Isa display on MoMA’s first floor lobby for those feeling it for lost luggage.

As we left Isa’s retrospective Milton concluded:

Milton: This should be a lesson: if we haven’t made it it’s our fault.

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94 responses to “Lame Adventure 404: Morons Mingling with Magritte

  1. Just like you to try to bring art to the masses. Magritte I’ve heard of and am actually familiar with some works. The Isa chick, well I got nothin. Apparently neither does she.

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  2. Wow. To be that close to original Magritte art! That’s very cool. Why does he make more sense than the other? I’za got nuthin’. I did like the little toy cars one. “Important and influential female artists of the past 30 years” – HUH? Wha? Is that hyperbole or am I just an art rube?

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    • Isa must have some very influential friends to have a show of this magnitude at the most prestigious modern art museum in the country. We never heard of her until we wandered aimlessly into that exhibit, but then again, I’m pretty clueless about Magritte. I just know when I see something I like. Pizza boxes on raw wood pedestals and Barbies dotting the floor, just bring to mind an adolescent’s messy room.

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  3. Thank you for another fun adventure around town.

    R.

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  4. This is all new to me, but oh my my … Milton as a tour guy seems like it would be a priceless occasion.

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  5. I love modern art museums as one never knows what one will find. Isa Genzken obviously snookered somebody as none of these pieces appeal to me. Magritte, on the other hand, did some very interesting and thought-provoking work! Too bad “The Son of Man” was not there and you’re forgiven for not knowing when it was painted. I would have expected to see it there too. Great post as always.

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    • Thanks Cathy. It never occurred to me that Son of Man missed the decade cut by 26 years. In the deep black hole that’s my imagination I thought it was a poster for the exhibit. That wasn’t the case. It was “The Menaced Assassin”. I should be smacked with a pipe.

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  6. When I was in art school, the trend was the crazier the better. I was a realistic illustrator. I received B’s for my masterpieces while the guy with the crayons that whipped off a drawing 5 minutes before coming to class got A’s. Isa would have rocked at the UW Madison in the 70′s!

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    • She might be a guest lecturer at UW Madison now since she’s “arguably” such an influence. No one I know, including my boss, who knows quite a lot about art, had ever heard of her. She seemed like the Emperor’s New Artist to us, Susie.

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  7. Egads! One shot looked like the skeletal remains of one of The Wayouts! from an episode of The Flintstones!

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  8. I liked #1 and #5 in the NYT set. Maybe I will get to Chicago and see the exhibit. We go to the Art Institute whenever we get to Chi-town. Thanks for the heads-up.

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  9. Does anybody actually buy Isa’s “art”? If so, they’ve got more dollars than sense.

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    • Funny you should ask! I noticed that the piece called “Pile of Rubbish” was on loan from an owner who resides in Turin. Maybe a family member?

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      • You missed the small print. Garbage Collectors Local 342, Turin. I think I may have a relative or two who are dues paying members. They’re “monbacks”. You know, the guy who stands in the street at the rear of the truck and tells the driver “‘mon back. You got 7 or 8 feet at least.”

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  10. Why would members go at a free time? Looks like a great exhibit. As for this Isa… I’m speechless.

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    • The Magritte was a lovely show of many exquisite paintings by one of the 20th century’s influential artists, but as for Isa, well … let’s just say her work was on the other side of the divide. Way on the other side and deep in the dumpster. Milton and I were pretty flabbergasted, too.

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  11. Good way to spend a Friday night. Did it make your dreams more interesting?

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  12. I visited the Museum of Modern Art in Chicago once. Unfortunately, they suckered me into paying $8 for the priviledge of extreme disappointment.

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  13. MoMI — Mind of Milton: that would be a fascinating exhibit. And, as for Isa, I think she exhibits some of her work in some of the rooms around my house — I have a lot here of the ‘Monback series.

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  14. First of all, thank you for introducing me “officially” to Rene Magritte. He is one of those artists I knew, but didn’t know I knew. His “This Is Not A Pipe” was used to great effect in Scott McCloud’s “Understanding Comics,” and that’s where I first remember seeing it.

    I’m no art-scientist, but I didn’t care for the second artist you saw (a possible exception being the desiccated Lady Ga Ga). I’m sure it takes some kind of skill to put those pieces together, but they don’t do anything for me. They don’t make me think, they don’t make me angry, they don’t make me sad, they don’t make me laugh, they don’t confuse me–what good are they?

    I can’t prove it, but I’m pretty sure you’ve listed other second favorite F-words before.

    And when you mention “hash” in the first sentence, and it’s not one of the two really wonderful hashes available (corned beef hash and hashish), that makes you kind of a tease.

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    • The humanitarian in me, Smak, is a fully clothed tease, though.

      Wow, you NAILED Isa’s exhibit: “I’m sure it takes some kind of skill to put those pieces together, but they don’t do anything for me. They don’t make me think, they don’t make me angry, they don’t make me sad, they don’t make me laugh, they don’t confuse me–what good are they?”

      Excellent commentary! It is almost as if you were there with us!

      Funny how there is so much in are out there that we know but we don’t realize that we know, eh? And then there’s the crap, like the fact that I didn’t know Miley Cyrus’s “Wrecking Ball” until I heard it and realized I did. Pass the Tums.

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      • Cultural bleed-over is funny–I’ve never seen a full episode of the odious “Friends,” and yet I can tell you every character’s first name. I never saw “Full House,” but I know many of the characters in that show (partially because I went to college with one of the supporting actors from that show, who was very sweet, having had her time in show biz, and was then looking to have a normal life).

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        • “Cultural bleed-over” is a good way of phrasing how we intake what’s in the ether whether we’re aware of it or not. This is similar to breathing polluted big city air i.e., you cannot avoid doing so.

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  15. You can see how much art there is in your own cluttered apartment. As for the Magritte, I’d only seen a few of his works in other museums but never so comprehensive as this one you visited. Good for you to get in free. The perk of living in NYC.

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    • Yes, Arti, NYC has many perks provided you can figure out a way to afford to live here. I never realized the junk I have piled up in my rathole could double as art, as I never realized a woman I had never heard of in my life was arguably so influential on the art world. Suddenly I feel like taking back all my Grandma Moses knocking. Or maybe not.

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  16. I have a suitcase in my closet. Maybe we can put it next to your clothes hanger / stationary bike and we can start our own exhibit. We’ll call it “Going Nowhere.”

    Is admission free every Friday after 4pm, or was it just for the closing of the Magritte exhibit?

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    • Admission is free at MoMA EVERY Friday from 4-8 pm. It’s an excellent deal but very, very crowded with tourists and cheap skates.

      Riding my spin bike often makes me feel like I’m going someplace: the ICU if I finally do suffer that massive coronary as I spin.

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  17. Something to do for free-can’t beat that!–Watching the morons that really like that stuff-Priceless!

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  18. You know I love art, but sometimes I’m baffled by it. I mean, Pile of Rubbish. We call that trash day on Friday. And the guard didn’t know if the painting was there. Um, how could he not know. Isn’t he there every day. Then again, I never paid attention at my office either.

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    • Looking back on that guard, TB, he probably assumed it had to be there, too! It’s an iconic painting and MoMA is an iconic museum — one I encourage you to visit (how about for free on a Friday from 4 – 8 pm?) the next time you’re in NYC. Standing around all day telling people not to take pictures has got to be grueling in its own way.

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      • Well at least he was honest in a way. My mom volunteered at a museum and when peopled asked her questions she would make us stuff about the artwork or the artist. She had great fun being as creative as possible and since she was a volunteer she couldn’t be fired. Of course I don’t think they invited her back.

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        • I agree; he was honest in a way. He did an effective job of answering my question with a non-answer. Your mother is proof that you get what you pay for. What an appropriate story to share on this site. Thanks!

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  19. I love this kind of art, as you might expect. But then I make shit out of cat food cans, too. Tells you lot. Must admit to loving Milton’s comment–this looks like my room. The man has a point, I suppose.

    Hugs from Ecuador,
    Kathy

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    • I anticipated that Isa’s visions might appeal to your pack rat side, Kathy. It is a skill to make art out of trash (what you do). But in Isa’s case to my untrained eye, her art made from trash still looks very much like its source material. Milton’s brother’s room could have been an extension of her exhibit.

      Hugs back from the Big Apple,
      V

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  20. Just saw this commercial for the first time, and thought of you (because of this post). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-EoLAHt0qPQ

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  21. Forgot to applaud you on your use of alliteration. Could have added Milton, me and Morons Mingling mit Magritte. Using the German for with. I think.

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  22. Late to your artistic partay, V. Apologies. I liked Magritte’s work but I didn’t know who he was until your post. For the other stuff, some of it seems like a bunch of shite thrown together and named. I guess I’m not as artsy as I thought I was. I guess I like the 70s thing the best of all Isa’s exhibit. I’ve got a tabletop I painted of a person in the clouds years ago. I’d put it up against Isa’s stuff any day. I think I mentioned this once before, I saw a small piece of rope nailed on a board in some museum (I think it was the Whitney) proclaimed as art. Soooo, there you go. I’m not an art critic, but I do like to look at pretty things.

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    • If much of Isa’s exhibit was sitting at the curb waiting for the trash collector, I would have kept walking. I suspect I would not have been alone. Wouldn’t it be funny if some of the curatorial staff at MoMA would do the same?

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  23. I believe that Magritte painted ‘This is not allowed’, which depicted a severed hand clutching an iPhone.

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  24. I’m all for art and creativity and channeling the awesome in you, but I agree with Milton it does look like my room … in college. But the one thing that did crack me up was the brain one. Too funny. But so glad you were able to catch this for FREE. It’s so hard to get absolutely free stuff, there’s always a catch somewhere. :)

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    • Hey Guat, as Milton was fixated on what he deemed the “bad houses in the 70s” elements in the exhibit, I gravitated straight to that pile of hardened mush with the coat hanger protruding from it, too. Before even reading the name of the piece, I wondered, “What is this, her brain?” I loved the whimsey of that individual piece, but to grant this artist’s life’s work half a floor in the most revered modern art museum in the nation is a stretch even for folks as elastic in their thinking as Milton and me.

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  25. Those concrete receivers of Isa’s remind me of the early mobile phones, LA. I have quite a few old mobiles myself, so you’ve given me an idea to set up a display all of my very own. I’ll publish a post in the not too far distant future with my creations… I’m going through an artsy creative stage at the moment.
    Hope you’re well – I’ve not been around for a while…

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    • Nice to see you Tom! That is very true that early mobile phones were like bricks. I remember having to haul those things around in a giant suitcase when I worked in film production in the Pleistocene era. There was a separate suitcase for the walkie talkies for the assistants. Come to think of it, I was the production manager. I didn’t haul anything. But sometimes lifting it up to my ear was a workout in itself. I look forward to checking out that post when you get around to publishing it. I’ve been trying to keep sane hours so I’m not killing myself in the blogosphere, either.

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  26. writerwendyreid

    I know nothing about art. I just wanted to say Hi to one of my favorite bloggers. :-)

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  27. Vee, Milton makes the best date because his one-liners enlighten any trash pile. Sometimes art can be so interpretive. If you are blind, do you enjoy it more?

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  28. Would love to have seen the Magritte exhibit, but not sorry to have missed Isa’s show. I’ve seen other “modern” art pieces that are equally questionable in my mind. I tend to use “free cycle” to get rid of junk aaround the house, but obviously I’m going about this the wrong way. What I should be doing is finding a gallery to take it!

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  29. That would totally be me buying a membership and then attending the exhibit on the one day that it’s free. Best laid plans…

    I know I’m like a week late here, but we took C to the North Carolina Museum of Art today. She passed out the instant we started perusing the galleries. My day was made.

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  30. It’s not often I get to laugh out loud at art blogs but this one did it. “It might be there, it might not.” hahaha
    I’m never going back to MoMA she said firmly. I will not pay to look at plywood painted pink again. But I probably will because their exhibits make me laugh.

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  31. The brain from 1984 made me laugh. And then I considered that maybe parts of it were real and that would explain a lot of her subsequent poor artistic choices.

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    • Hopefully a modern day Dr. Frankenstein will not accidentally plant it inside another being, even though I suspect that bad art is here for the long haul like death, taxes, and small child whining.

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  32. Ooh, Lady Gaga, you never cease to amaze with your indulgent costumes. And I’ve walked through these exhibits and thinking…. I work too much — I need to arrange my trash and just write an artist’s statement about it involving the finite resources of our planet and the disgusting consumerism in America– instant fame.

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    • Part of me thinks that we have Marcel Duchamp to thank for giving what appears to be worthless unimaginable sky-high value. It is often thought that he was R. Mutt the mastermind behind Fountain back in 1917. The rest of me thinks that I’m just a clueless imbecile when it comes to understanding what makes an object or painting art.

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