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MoMA 2: "The Reckoning"

Everyone said it was great, and Everyone is, um, sometimes wrong, but in this case They weren’t and Holy Mackerel the world has once again aligned itself in unity and harmony as Everyone, including me this time which happens all too rarely, agrees: the return of The Modern to 53rd St. is pretty frickin’ fantastic. It’s like a visit with Old Friends, only they’ve gotten a hip new apartment and everyone looks thin and healthy. As promised, the building is breathtakingly beautiful and thoughtfully designed, and yet, despite it’s granduer, we all know it’s not really about the architecture. It’s the Art, Stupid, and our Old Friends are tanned, rested, and ready.

And organized—And how. In a museum that’s actually like dozens of museums—every room a completely different space, some wide and spare with hardwood floors and bright lighting, some low-ceilinged and enjoyably cramped with pieces—our Old Friends are categorized, classified, and codified like never before. With the notable exception of the opening space (that glorious first look into the new museum, with the deservedly-hyped juxtaposition of the Monet Water Lillies, against Barnett Newman’s massive Broken Obelisk), the galleries are a new opportunity to see mini-retrospectives of artists and isms. Max Beckmann, next to Max Beckmann, next to Max Beckmann, next to his friend Otto Dix, next to his contemporary George Grosz … or Duchamp’s broken glass next to his Commode next to some Man Ray photos astride Dali’s melting clocks and Magritte’s floating eye … if the new curation were music I’d call the structure trim and airtight, and the effect on one’s museum experience is a surprising spin away from the usual. I never realized how in the old building everything was more spread out and tossed around. The new organization is at the very least quite helpful in taking in a less-than-familiar period, and at it’s best, breathtakingly overwhelming from the sheer weight of one artist’s genius. I mean, the effect of the Jackson Pollack “room”, if one can call it that, is extreme. For your visual cortex to be slammed all at once with that kind of energy and overpowering beauty—it’s a severe, almost violent effect, and I loved it. We’re used to seeing the best pieces spread out throughout the galleries, a little bit here, a little taste there … now the good stuff is all in your face, all at once, and it’s dizzying. All of Matisse’s head busts are lined up like ducks in a row, all seemingly melting from a common ailment, and all of Picasso’s unlovely women disturbingly stare down at you all at once, as if you’re the one who turned them into a square.

It’s valuable to remind yourself from time to time that the world’s treasures (revered, studied, copied, parodied) are actually just really good pieces of art. Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe is not just an image burned into our popular culture psyches, it’s also, simply, a gorgeous piece—it’s just really beautiful. It’s the same thing that often happens with me when I take in Hamlet again (“You know what?—this is a really good play…”), or after a great performance of Beethoven 9 or something (“Good piece.”). There’s a reason these are beloved, and we often lose sight of it.

Of course, each MoMA visit, you fall in love with someone new, even though you’ve probably passed their work a dozen times before. Who was it this time? Gerhard Richter. Go forth and visit him in his new luxury apartment.

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