This weekend I made a trip up to the Philadelphia Museum of art. I went to see the Duchamp
works they have, and I was a little disappointed. But, I was sort of expecting to be disappointed. I think that for most of his works, reading about them is more interesting than actually seeing them. I like the idea of the "readymade
," but seeing them in person does not really add a whole lot to the idea. However, I think that that is part of the point.
It was good to see the Large Glass. The object is interesting and impressive, but not really beautiful. Again part of the point probably.
Disappointments aside, here is the thought that I had:
I was looking at many of the works in the "modern" section, and I enjoy quite a few of them. But much of the stuff is so fragmented and disjointed that you can't help but ask why if you aren't already acquainted with the artist or the works. I was specifically struck by Cy Twombly's
painting, "Achilles Shield."
It is great that he takes up classical themes, and I think that he even may
have some profound things to say about them. One of the things that you are immediately confronted with is that the work is primarily just a bunch of scribbling on canvas. Maybe this is part of the statement that Twombly
is making. Maybe I need to read more about his technique, and pay attention to the composition more, I don't know. But the bare fact remains: Homer, one of the most seminal figures in western culture has been reduced to crayon scribbles. What does that say about us as a culture?
After spending some time contemplating the scribbles and their relation to Homer, I still had some time left so I decided to go upstairs to where the "real" art is, you know the stuff with subjects that you can recognize. What I was really surprised by were the odd similarities that I found up there.
In particular there was one wall full of finely carved wooden trim that once resided in various houses from some bygone era. Interesting looking I suppose, and perhaps even historically significant. However, they were so fragmented, torn out of their original context that you felt a little odd. Then I walked into a room full of really beautiful religious art. Some nice altar pieces and various other adornments that once must have been in a church. Again totally torn out of their context.
This is where I begin to wonder. If the primary way that we experience art is through this vehicle of the museum, which tears out objects that once had a very significant function from their world (referential totality?) and places them on display as significant in and of them selves, then maybe the movement to more abstract art is an attempt to counter this violent wrenching of meaning.
Now you see artists who create works that are completely incomprehensible without the context from which they came. This is an art that says firmly, "You will not appreciate me without immersing yourself into my world." I think that the ready made is a great example of this phenomena. These are works that you would not know are "art" but for the context that they come with.
I am not claiming that this is what the artists that I saw were thinking, but rather just surmising some possible description of larger historical trends.
Anyways, it's a good museum I would recommend checking it out.