Multi-borough museum adventure: P.S. 1

Everything sounds better with the word “adventure” tacked to it.

Today involved much art.  Art and subways.  Extra subways because I was an idiot and left the apartment without my camera battery, and therefore had to return to my apartment to get the camera battery.  You will be happy to see that I did, I was able to take some installation shots at the Brooklyn Museum.

I met up with Phil at P.S. 1, in Long Island City in Queens.  P.S. 1 is MoMA’s off-site center for contemporary art.  The museum is located in a converted schoolhouse (hence the name).  MoMA lacks space in its midtown location for the sufficient display of contemporary art, so this location helps in terms of air time.  Also, the artists shown here are lesser known, and the space’s less-touristy location enables experimentation in terms of who and what is shown.

At least, that’s what I hoped it would be.  I was actually a little disappointed by P.S. 1.  Yes, the pool installation near the lobby is really neat, but it is mostly a visual trick, and an obvious one at that.  I do like P.S. 1’s Summer Warm-Up series, and how they commission a new outdoor concert area every year via their Young Architects Program.  I think it’s a good way to rally the local cultural community and it brings a lot of families and other unlikely visitors to the museum.  This year’s YAP winner is Afterparty, sort of giant coney thatched volcanoes that mist the crowd below to keep them cool.

Afterparty, in the courtyard of P.S. 1
Afterparty, in the courtyard of P.S. 1

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So those aspects of the museum were positive.  I liked some of the works in the Jonathan Horowitz show, but I thought a lot of the work was humorless, heavy-handed, and rather obvious–lots of anti-war works, stupid photographic tricks like turning a photo of Bush upside down, or ripping a picture of the Pope in half alla Sinead O’Connor.  Said heavy-handedness was even more apparent in the works of Lutz Bacher; this exhibit also had poor video art.  Enough said.  A Kenneth Anger video retrospective was interestingly installed but I find that very few visitors, myself included, have the patience to watch a long series of experimental films (not video art, Phil would yell at me if I called it video art) in an art museum, although I do understand that many film types are really excited about the chance to see so many of Anger’s works in a not-youtube-setting.  I really liked the semiotic word-play object-based drawings of Michael Joaquin Grey, especially his topographical pulsing interpretation of The Wizard of Oz.  I was also really pleased by William Kentridge’s stairwell installations.  Overall, though, I was sort of puzzled by the museum and by the art chosen by the curators.  The work chosen demonstrated to me that some of the more exciting works being made today are in traditional media: painting, drawing, and sculpture.  Bad video art is really unbearable, and unfortunately much of the multi-media work being shown today is bad.  The contemporary art gallery at MoMA proper has a giant drawing show, and it is really astounding, much better than most of what I saw at P.S.1, but still something of a mess exhibition wise.  Maybe the contemporary art curators at P.S.1 and MoMA don’t know what to do with themselves, I’m not really sure.  Also, the museum is not particularly visitor-friendly: the layout is confusing, and the curators/educators do not do much in the way of explaining the art to visitors.  Many people are turned-off by contemporary art, and I do not feel that P.S. 1 did much to remedy that situation.  I am glad I finally visited P.S. 1 but I find it a really problematic institution.

Check-in for part II of said multi-borough museum adventure tomorrow!

2 thoughts on “Multi-borough museum adventure: P.S. 1

  1. Hi! Carmen from the Whit here. Love your blog!
    Just had to point out, though– PS1 isn’t a MoMA outpost. They are an independent museum that is involved in a partnership with MoMA, and thusly their curatorial department is separate from MoMA’s. They are also not a collecting institution, so their stuff isn’t theirs… Yes, it allows more “air time” and room for much experimentation. PS1 had a happy and healthy history in NYC before MoMA partnered with it a few years ago… They also have some of the sweetest “permanent” site-specific works in town!

  2. Hey Carmen! Thanks for reading and thanks for letting me know! I figured the curatorial departments were separate but I didn’t realize that they were just partners, not part of the same organization. Do you know why MoMA decided to partner with it? Again, I liked some of the work shown but a lot of it I found problematic–but I loved the site-specific stuff, like the works in the stairwells.

    Miss you uptown! Come visit us sometime!

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