The MOMA: Sigmar Polke, Posters, and Gauguin

This weekend I had a single day in New York. So what is a girl to do? Well, everything. In particular, there were exhibitions that I wanted to see at the MOMA and Guggenheim. Of course, it is a little strange to be going to the MOMA after seeing Portrait of Wally but I still wanted to go, past notwithstanding.

I started at the MOMA. I was keen on the MOMA because I was curious about the Sigmar Polke retrospective going on there. I had come across Sigmar Polke, a post-WWII German artist, several years ago and found him to a breath of fresh air. His paintings were hilarious. One made fun of artists who relied on mystical visions for their work. One piece was a giant white canvas with a large black triangle in the corner. It was called “Higher Beings Commanded: Paint the Upper-Right Corner Black! (1969).” For me, this was absolutely fantastic. I always found Suprematism movement (not affiliated with white suprematism as far as I know) by Kasimir Malevich to be hysterical. Anyway, so I was curious.

Sadly, I found the exhibition largely frustrating. It had gotten rave reviews as one of the best exhibitions in a long time. The reviews extolled the lack of wall tags. There was a booklet at the beginning that served as a substitute. Well, this was extremely annoying to me. I had to keep referring through the book to figure out was going on. Some of the pieces were lost on me since I didn’t know what to make of it. There were some in the booklet that I couldn’t figure out what paintings they belonged to. There was one that was a reaction to the Brazilian dictatorship in the 1970s but I got lost figuring it out. Disappointing. But there were pieces that needed no explanation for me. There was my beloved triangle piece. There was also a wonderful cartoonish “Supermarket” filled with Superman. Not just clever. A nice complement to all the discussions about US media and consumerism that was occurring in the 1970s.

“Women and War 1914-1945” was the other exhibit that I was keen on seeing at the MOMA. It was part of a larger exhibition called “Designing Modern Women: 1890-1990.” I was over the moon with this exhibit. My master’s thesis focused on the depiction of women in Cuba poster propaganda so I was really excited. The posters came from the US, Spain, Russia and possibly Britain. All the posters dealt with the role of women in the war effort. It covered everything from using the image of frightened women and children to motivate men to fight for them to posters warning against the dangers of Venereal disease. They had my favorite poster from WWI. It shows a woman in a cute sailor suit with the words, “Gee! I wish I were a man. I’d join the Navy.” What a brilliant posters. Oh the gender dynamics! There was also a poster about eating vegetables instead of meat. It advocating “the Vegetabull,” a bull made of vegetables. Neat.

"Women and War 1914-1945" MOMA, NY
“Women and War 1914-1945” MOMA, NY
"The Vegetabull," MOMA, NY
“The Vegetabull,” MOMA, NY

In addition to the posters, there was a famous Cuban poster called “Day of the Heroic Guerilla” by Elena Serrano. It was located in a different part of the Designing Women exhibit. It was so thrilling to see this poster in the museum. It’s a poster showing a map of Latin America with Che’s face in the middle repeated. It suggests that Che reverberates across Latin America. So cool.

"Day of the Heroic Guerilla” by Elena Serrano, MOMA, NY
“Day of the Heroic Guerilla” by Elena Serrano, MOMA, NY

As a bonus, we also went to an exhibit on Gauguin and Tahiti. It was a fascinating exhibit based on a man who basically abandoned his family to go to Tahiti. But while his intentions might be less than savory (there are a lot of nude or revealing young women), beautiful artwork did result. Does this mean that the ends justify the means? I don’t know. But it was interesting. The exhibit showcased his carvings, printmaking and some paintings. He did have a wonderful statue of a demon figure with horns. Anyway, I’m not sure how I feel about this all.

That’s all for now.

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