Monday, December 12, 2005

Art and Intention Revisited

The new Museum of Modern Art is spectacular: so vastly transformed that it is difficult to recognize it as the same site. Such renovations can be painful for those of us who resist change. But there is nothing here akin to the desecration of the Rothko room at the old Tate Gallery. In fact, my favourite work at the Museum enjoys a wonderful new location: Umberto Boccioni's Development of a Bottle in Space now inhabits a windowed corner, where sunlight interacts with its own plastic and moving depiction.

Other revisions are more puzzling, though some of them induce a smile. Here is the curator's note to Carl Andre's 144 Lead Square:
Rejecting the notion of sculpture as art to be mounted on a pedestal and viewed from a distance, Andre wished to make sculpture that someone might perhaps not even notice, and might purposely or accidentally walk on. However, recent research into the properties of lead compels the Museum to caution visitors against stepping on this work.
Is this intended as an exploration of questions about art and intention – textual accompaniment as conceptual art? If so, it belongs with a pair of items by Robert Morris which occupy the same floor: Litanies (a lead cast resembling keys on a chain), and its partner, Document, the relevant part of which reads as follows:
The undersigned, Robert Morris, being the maker of the metal construction entitled Litanies, described in the annexed Exhibit A, hereby withdraws from said construction all esthetic quality and content and declares that from the date hereof said construction has no such quality or content. (notarized 11/15/63)
I can confirm that "esthetic quality and content" are now entirely absent from Litanies. But this is uninformative: I do not know how "said construction" looked before the 15th of November, 1963.


Anonymous Brian Weatherson said...

I never saw the old Rothko room, which perhaps makes it easier to like the current room. (Although it would be better as a dead-end rather than a corridor.) What was the old room like?

4:43 PM  
Blogger Kieran Setiya said...

It was a single enclosed room with one entrance; white walls, no windows, quite dark. The paintings were principally black on maroon, with some red. It could be claustrophobic, though it wasn't small, simply because the atmosphere of the paintings filled it so completely.

As I understand it, Rothko gave the paintings to the Tate (instead of the Seagram Building for which they were commissioned) on the understanding that they would have a permanent, exclusive home. I don't know whether he saw the specific room they occupied at the old Tate Gallery, but I think he designed the arrangement, and I am sure he did not have in the mind the corridor at the new Tate Modern.

5:18 PM  

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