Travel memories #2: Museum of Modern Art, New York

"Culture of difference", Paul Perjovschi installation at MoMA, 2007 (photo © Tim Liew)


Museum of Modern Art, New York.


2nd June 2007.


Located in midtown Manhattan just a few blocks from Times Square, New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) is home to arguably the finest and most comprehensive collection of modernist art in the world. First opened in 1929 (nine days after the Wall Street Crash), the permanent exhibits include Vincent Van Gogh‘s The Starry Night, Salvador Dali‘s The Persistence of Memory (the one with the melting pocket watches), Claude Monet‘s Water Lilies, and Andy Warhol‘s Campbell’s Soup Cans. And that’s before you even start to talk about celebrated artworks by artists whose names will be immediately familiar to any lover of modern art: Pablo PicassoRoy Lichtenstein, Paul Cézanne, Joan Miró, Henri Matisse, Piet Mondrian, Vasily Kandinksy, Paul Gaugain, Jackson Pollock, Alberto Giacometti, Henry Moore – the list goes on and on.


Our second visit to New York was our last overseas holiday before the birth of our first son Isaac. It was very different to our previous trip, taking place in the sticky heat of early June rather than the bitter chill of December. We were only in Manhattan for 2½ days, having spent five days in Washington DC first, and lost most of the first day sitting in a hospital ER after a minor health scare – a dour and draining experience which neither of us are in a hurry to ever repeat.

MoMA was our last port of call before flying home. On our previous visit MoMA had been closed as it was in the middle of a mammoth 2½-year renovation, so we didn’t want to miss it this time. And it was well worth the wait. We spent an entire morning inside but it could easily have been a week. There are so many iconic works which are familiar to many through photos, but which are simply breathtaking to see in person. Everywhere we looked, there was another instantly recognisable piece. It was like being the proverbial kids in a candy shop.

But most striking of all was the large-scale drawing installation by Romanian artist Dan Perjovschi, completed over the course of two weeks on the wall of the Marron Atrium. Rhetorically entitled WHAT HAPPENED TO US?, it played on the ambiguity of whether the ‘US’ refers to the subjective pronoun ‘us’ or the USA. Inspired by cultural issues and current events such as the Middle East conflict, Perjovschi’s sketches portrayed reality with a sense of criticality and pointed humour. So, for instance, the featured image at the top of this post – Culture of Difference – was a wry poke at the diverse and cosmopolitan nature of American society.

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It was a fantastic and though-provoking exhibit which rounded off a happy morning which was the highlight of our trip. I have visited museums all over the world, from the Tate Modern, Louvre, Uffizi and Prado in Europe to the American Museum of Natural History, Guggenheim and various branches of the Smithsonian in the US. This remains my favourite ever.

Link: MoMA website, Dan Perjovschi official website

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