Nothing makes you an expert on modern/contemporary art like becoming an international traveller. There’s something about art galleries which is a bit of a draw – a combination of being able to see one-of-a-kind works by humankind’s revered creative minds, having one’s mind expanded by trying to work out what it all might mean, and the ability to critically view a work and discover one’s own boundaries.
Or, sometimes, they just represent a light, airy room that isn’t too expensive to get into for a while and where it’ll be anice temperature & have plenty of nice things to look at.
On this particular day it seemed a fine idea to visit New York’s famous Museum of Modern Art (known by many by its acronymmial designation, MoMA). I’ll readily confess that I’d done no research whatsoever into what it was I’d see in there, which is sort of how I usually stumble into these things.
This is possibly going to go down in memory as the most prat thing I’ve ever said on this blog, but my chief response to the collection was one of mild disappointment – only insofar as MoMA is a name which people always speak of in reverent tones, and yet it turned out to largely be a collection of galleries venerating the same group of guys (Warhol, Duchamp, Brancusi, Picasso, Man Ray, Matisse, Mondrian, Rothko, Pollock, Moholy-Nagi, Modigliani, Dali, and soforth). It could entirely be that this is the world’s foremost collection of such works, and my only problem is the order in which I’ve visited places… to be sure, there were plenty of other really cool things in there – I very much enjoyed the industrial design and typography sections, and spent a good long time nosing around there. Also, on the top floor there was an excellent exhibition by Mexican-based Belgian artist Francis Alÿs which really grabbed me. There was one video piece where they filmed a guy in a clapped out red VW Beetle who had been told to drive up a muddy hill, but only engage the engine when he could hear the music playing in his headphones.
There was also a quite large piece by British contemporary artists Gilbert and George, which was typically self-referential and which took the form of a wall-sized piece of prose directed to MoMA, which left you wondering whether it was meant to be a letter, or art. But then they claim that everything they do is art, so that answers that question. It left me wondering what substance the letter was painted in, however (based upon materials used in their other pieces).
In a way the experience made me realise what a risky move the Saatchi Gallery took with the YBAs exhibition, but then that gallery started out displaying the usual suspects, so maybe that’s irrelevant.
But, the piece I wanted to share here was one from out in the sculpture garden, by Yoko Ono – it’s Wish Tree for MoMA.
As the instructions suggest, you write a wish down on the parcel tags provided at the nearby table then tie the wish to the tree. Every so often (daily, I’m guessing) the tags are taken down and put in a glass box upstairs in another part of the collection. I read somewhere that they’re then shipped off to the Peace Tower in Iceland, but can’t confirm that bit.
Anyway, usually when offered an opportunity to participate in something like this I’ll have a go (for instance, adding my tribute to Richard Feynman to the gaggle of other Feynman tributes at the Who Is Your Favourite Scientist? wall at the Royal Society), and after queueing briefly behind a couple of girls to whom wishes didn’t seem to come naturally, my wish was added to the collection.
You can see it there about halfway up the trunk of the wish sapling.
I know that the way wishes work is that you’re not meant to tell anyone what yours is or it won’t come true. Doesn’t matter: this wasn’t a real wish. I got caught up with the idea of being in a modern art gallery, and how the seemingly mundane can have great meaning. So the tag I put on the trunk was this:
Think about it… it’s got levels! Is it the wish of a person, and why do they want to be taller? There’s the notion of correlating height with success – both economically and biologically. Why is it halfway up the trunk? That suggests that the person who put it there was only 4 feet high. Was it a child? If so, why waste a wish on something that’s inevitable. Or was it the tree that wished it? Wit? Dissatisfaction? A sign of the unlimited and ultimately superficial wants of mankind? Pure brilliance – that’s what that is.
I gauged the (immense) popularity of my work by wandering around the sculpture garden and upon returning noticing a few people taking photos of it. Art is the audience.
Look, my point is, if fucking Banksy had put it there, it’d be worth about 25 grand.