It has returned. The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) Online Course sessions are back again. This time, it’s not just about modern art, but also about contemporary. Officially, the second series is titled Modern and Contemporary Art From 1945-1989. There will be 10 sessions in all, like the first time, so in this blog and in my notes, I will number the sessions from 11 to 20 (continuing from the first.) Enjoy.
There was a bit of MoMA Class graduation after party with Team Jorjes-School of PP last Tuesday. It consisted of us sitting down in Liberica and just talking about stuff (I don’t remember what we talked about; although I think we did try to come up with our book club schedule—or maybe that was just me making stuff up in my head.)
Then there was coffee, tea, and I ate some food. And then I bugged my friend about getting me a job as a guest lecturer.
Anyway, I brought the camera for the occasion (‘cause it’s not only Miss Jo who has her camera handy at all times! :D) and we took some pictures.
Certificates? Check! What’s missing? The booze. Obviously.
I was going for a candid look for them… but they were too camera-aware for this to be purely candid. Well, okay, at least they tried. ;)
And these two, I don’t even. They’re sweet… but also kind of crazy. Which is why I’m friends with them.
These are good times. I’m going to miss them so much. (Unless, of course, @atamerica will continue the program.) Now we’ll have to depend on our crazy schedules to meet up for a movie screening or a book club. (And yes, our schedules are pretty crazy so it’s not that easy to meet up…)
Funnily enough, someone asked a very good question the other day. She asked, “Congratulations on the graduation. What does that make you an expert of? All things American?”
I thought about it and then answered, “No. I’m just now a semi-expert of modern art from 1880 to 1945.”
And I thought again about it because there was something that I felt was missing from that statement. A minute later I figured it out. I’m missing the 1945-now contemporary art knowledge. Once I have that knowledge, I’ll be a real semi-expert in art history for real. The question now is, how do I make that happen?
So we ‘graduated’ from our MoMA Online Course on Modern Art: 1880-1945 on Tuesday, 26 June 2012. This basically means we get our certificates (not without a huge serving of disorganization and fiasco - but that story will come later.) There was a ‘graduation ceremony’ @atamerica in Pacific Place at 7 PM consisting of speeches and certificate awarding procession, like a proper college do. There was even a photo session afterwards with all the participants of the course. It was really like going back to school and finishing a year or completing several years of study.
It was very nice of @atamerica to hold the ceremony for us. Funnily enough, there was a cultural attache from the American Embassy that came to give a speech and he openly admitted that we were their “guinea pigs”. As in, they had no idea what to expect when they were designing this program and they were pleasantly surprised with the result because we, the guinea pigs (or “trial rabbits”, as I should say in my native tongue), showed great enthusiasm for the program.
Unfortunately, my evening was ruined by the aforementioned disorganization of the people in charge of the certificates. After the effort they made to invite us to this event, and after all the effort I made to go to the ceremony (it wouldn’t have been THAT much of an effort, except I was feeling rather unwell and tired and actually was in the middle of my magazine deadline yesterday), they couldn’t even give me my certificate right away. They planned a show where everyone’s names get called up to enter stage left, shake hands with our facilitator (Mr. Amir Sidharta) and pose for the camera and exit stage right.
And everyone’s names got called except mine.
To tell you the truth, that was not only worrisome but also ANNOYING.
I felt neglected (yeah, so maybe I’m a whiny brat, whatever) but, more importantly, I worried about not getting my certificate. The MC didn’t inspire confidence either by saying, “for those of you who have not yet received your certificates, please continue to monitor our Twitter and Facebook for further announcements.” Was he improvising? If so, not a very good improvisation. The least he could say, “Please check with our staff members at the reception desk and inquire after your certificates there.” There wasn’t even an offer to mail them to us either - we were supposed to just WAIT until they announce something in their social media platforms.
All this after I saw them writing to some people “your attendance will be very much anticipated and appreciated in the ceremony”.
Also, before this, one of my friends, a Team Jorjes crew who also didn’t get her certificate during the big brouhaha of a ceremony, had emailed them to ask if it was all right for her not to attend as she had a previous engagement. The reply she got reportedly said that there would be no other time for us to get the certificates outside the ceremony. Because of that, she came… and for what?
She came to do what I did, which was to ask at the people in the reception desk to look for her missing certificate. (And, really, @atamerica, could you train your people to handle inquiries in a more expedient manner? The staff whom I asked to look for my certificates at the reception desk yesterday were behaving like they were bestowing upon me a great favor despite the fact that they didn’t seem to know where to look for my piece of MoMA paper.) And apparently, quite a few people had to do the same thing.
Oh and here’s a funny one: in the midst of my internal panicking and external fuming, the staff at the reception, instead of hastening to look for my certificate, instead asked me, “Have you got your picture taken with the others?” (My response to that was, “No. Not interested. Can I just have my certificate RIGHT NOW, please?” I’m not even sorry for being somewhat rude because I don’t even know what else to say to that.)
Bottom line, I seriously appreciate what @atamerica is doing for us. The entire course was excellent - and made even more spectacular by the fact that it was FREE OF CHARGE - and the graduation ceremony was nice. But in the end, it wrapped up in an anti-climactic manner. Yes, the MC apologized for “hiccups” because it was the first time they had a ceremony, but the fiasco could’ve been avoided with a better organization.
(Hey, you know what, @atamerica? Hire me! I’m a Virgo and I’m obsessed with organization. Also, I’ve background in event organizing.)
But MAJOR PROPS to Mr. Amir Sidharta, who waited for me to come back and have my picture taken with him. He is a class act (even if his fumbling with the laptops during lectures did amuse me greatly—I hereby would like to offer my services as his laptop operator should @atamerica decide to make a continuation of this program) and he was adorable throughout the ceremony by admitting, “This experience has made me understand better the things I was supposed to understand back then [in college].”
Note to self: I need to tell my mother this story because apparently she was acquainted with him during her magazine editorship days.
Also it was nice to be able to vent my frustrations about the certificate fiasco to the nice lady who talked to me after I had my picture taken with Pak Amir. (I don’t know her name but she was quite helpful in soothing my ruffled feathers. Kind of like what I used to do when I was still working in a bookstore and dealing with upset customers.) Wish there were more people like Ms. Nice Lady.
My biggest thanks, however, go to my people - the ever flawless odayski, thesouthernstar, sherzsherz and betteronholiday - who kindly helped me get my certificate and put up with my drama. Couldn’t have asked for a better crew to hang out with in the “school of pacific place” (honestly, these people are the best! Now, when are we going to get our book club going, ladies?) They not only completed their courses but they also salvaged my graduation night. Hurrah!
To ALL of the graduates of MoMA Online Course on Modern Art: 1880-1945 Winter/Spring 2012 in @atamerica:
Congratulations! We did it!
Following Pablo Picasso, Amedeo Modigliani and the artists that used to hang out in Paris in the early 1900s, my friends and I made a habit of gathering almost every Saturday at Pacific Place after our MoMA class lectures. Our Café de la Rotonde is usually Pancious. Or Go Curry. Or Liberica. Or Starbucks, when we can get seats.
When you hear us talk, we sound kind of fangirl/fanboy-ish, but we’re actually a group of journalists (also, market researcher, teacher, international relations graduate). We’re art, literature, cinema and pop culture enthusiasts. We watch movies and tv series, we read books, we follow pop culture… then we talk the hell out of them.
And believe it or not, our conversations have actually resulted in something: book clubs, modern art mind maps, a couple of Dada artworks, and this blog, really.
The name TEAM JORJES came from an inside joke that came from the first ever MoMA class lecture. During quiz time, someone in the audience answered a question and pronounced Georges Seurat name using ‘local pronunciation’, call him “Jorjes”. The group of us, being elitist (pseudo) linguists, promptly laughed at that. The jokey name stuck and we ended up using this name for our group.
Team Jorjes is my very own School of Paris.
How appropriate is it that the last MoMA online course lecture session ends with the weirdest of them all? Salvador Dali and Surrealism. Welcome to “beyond realism”.
Being the movement that prevailed post-Dada, in my notes I described Surrealism as:
Hyper-reality —> illusionistic
Which is a load of bollocks if you have no idea what you’re dealing with in the first place. And I’m not ashamed to say that I don’t know what I’m dealing with.
All I know is that:
Surrealism = absurdity at the highest level; also, severe mindfuckery
And, as it usually is with things I am not entirely familiar with, my notes on the topic remain as blank as a white sheet. I managed to jot down something for the surrealist works featured in the lecture, but as for the topic itself, I didn’t really have enough notes to fill an entire page, let alone trying to write in the margins.
Despite this, however, I was still fascinated with the subject. To me Surrealism is the ultimate reason why I want to study art. (Well, that and Dada.) Correct interpretation of Surrealist works may not be possible, seeing as they seem to be more works that indulge the artists than the viewers of the art. In order to understand them, the brain needs to be opened as wide as possible in order to absorb any and all possible meanings. Unless, of course, you knew the artist and could ask them why they made their works that way.
Dali, in particular, strikes a more familiar figure to me than Picasso. This is because I grew up looking at The Persistence Of Memory on many occasions and I’ve had the luck of having informative parents who did their research whenever I ask them a question, even if it’s about certain art objects. I always thought that that painting was one of the most beautiful, meaningful works of art ever made… not that I’m 100% sure what that meaning is.
But that’s art to you, I guess. Each person interprets it differently. With Surrealism, the old adage “to each his own” rings particularly true.
In this last session of the MoMA classes, we were first treated to Luis Buñuel’s film (that he wrote with Dali) Un chien andalou. One look at it and I thought that these people either thrived on being weird or were completely out of my league. I later decided that it was more of a case of the latter than the former. The video served as a jolt to my system because everything I saw in it was so absurd that I couldn’t wrap my head around it. The only thing that I benefited from it was to see how Dali’s brain worked and how it related to The Persistence Of Memory (the ants being a key element to his works). Other than that, though, my opinion was, “What the—”
There were so many videos in this session that we almost didn’t get to see it all (in fact, I don’t think that we did see them all). I resorted to writing artists’ names and works (Joan Miró, Méret Oppenheim) so I could research them later. (By the way, FYI, no I have not completed my research.)
But if there’s one thing that these videos showed me is that, though absurd, surrealist paintings are still very beautiful.
In the end, I saw it this way: it’s kind of like when you watch a movie by Christopher Nolan. (Yes, Nolan, not Lynch because I’m not that masochistic.) He mindfucks you with his movies, but they’re beautiful anyway so you enjoy it.
Here we come to the most fascinating part of the modern art movement: Dada.
Let me tell you, if I were to become an artist at all, most of my work would be categorized as Dada.
What a strange movement this was, originating in Zurich and spreading throughout the major cultural centers in Europe, as well as New York. The idea behind this one was “utter nonsense”, as in, “what the hell is this? You call this art? That’s UTTER NONSENSE!”
In a way, I personally see it as “anarchy of the art” because it was so subversive to the point of being offensive. And apparently this was very intentional. I don’t know. It’s just so fascinating.
Dada was a critique on capitalism and the bourgeois. It was anti-nationalism, anti-politics and anti-war. It was the birth of conceptual art and it ignored authorship and authenticity. In Germany, it was also darker and angrier, more satirical and confrontational, because they faced war right at their faces at the time. The artists of the Berlin branch of Dada, for example, expressed their anger by featuring photographs of political figures at the time and cutting their limbs off and showing only their heads.
The New York Dada movement was led by Marcel Duchamp, who’d dabbled in a subversive type of art before the term Dada was ‘invented’ in Switzerland. This was Duchamp of the Fountain, the infamous urinal posing as work of art, although Duchamp’s works that we covered today were his Bicycle Wheel (a bicycle wheel mounted on a stool) and Fresh Widow (a French window that was a pun for ‘fresh widows’ and a work that was copyrighted by his alter ego, Rose Selavy).
There was also a feature on L.Ho.O.O.Q, Duchamp’s readymade art in which he put mustaches on Da Vinci’s Monalisa and called it art. We discussed similarly nonsensical works from Man Ray, Hans Arp (or Jean Arp, when he was in France) and Max Ernst.
By far the most disturbing for me, though, was Ernst’s Two Children Threatened By A Nightingale. It was an assemblage of sorts, with objects sticking out of a canvas, depicting a confusing scene of two figures of young girls - one holding a knife and the other lying down on the ground - and a male figure on a roof that was possibly kidnapping another little girl. CREEPY.
Basically, the entire lecture was basically about “what is art?”
Dadaism was the first movement in art history that challenged the idea that art was something originally created by the artist. It’s a whole philosophy that will take a while (for me, at least) to get used to but also one that is definitely most fun to explore.
The Bauhaus. A very familiar name to me - thanks to a font style called Bauhaus - and a topic that was so diverse in its discussion that I only had two pages of notes about it in my Moleskine. (I do that sometimes; when my brain is receiving too much, I freeze up and end up not being able to do anything.)
On the whole, I do understand what it’s all about: it’s an art and craft school in Germany founded by Walter Gropius that operated from 1919 to 1933, that had to be closed down as the Nazi rose to power. The teachers and students in the Bauhaus went there mostly to work together, mingle, and exchange ideas, so instead of being a proper learning institution, it was really more of a meeting place for visionaries of that time. The Bauhaus was known to have tried to balance the art and the craft (i.e. technology) so it wasn’t just painting that the faculty and the students created, but also other forms of art and craft (such as textile, interior, graphic design and many more). Basically, it’s the ideal art school that, if it existed today, I’d have tried to get into just because.
Besides László Moholy-Nagy, the main artist and designer who was active as a teacher at the Bauhaus, we also discussed Paul Klee, an Austrian artist that I’ve known about before. Klee’s paintings were shown and I still think they’re pretty weird (I was so in awe of them that I forgot to write down anything about it and just took note of the names) but they’re worthy of further investigation. We also returned to Vassily Kandinsky, the Russian artist we’d discussed several weeks before during the topic of Expressionism, and we learned that his abstraction had developed into something more geometric in shapes.
This is one of the more complicated topics we covered in the class. The first line I wrote in my notebook at the beginning of the lecture was “geometric abstraction”. Obviously I caught this term while listening to how the lecturer, Larissa Bailiff, explained that Piet Mondrian was famous for his use of geometric lines and shapes to create abstract painting.
Mondrian seemed to have suffered a bit of obsessive/compulsive disorder (to put it rudely, he was an extreme neat freak) and he parted ways from his de stijl colleague, Theo van Doesburg, over the use of horizontal/vertical versus diagonal shapes/lines. (SERIOUSLY, DUDE?)
And while this made him very interesting, I found it kind of hard to grasp the meaning behind his works.
A similar artist was Kazimir Malevich. His brand of art was called the avant-garde suprematist movement. It was a movement born out of a wish for a “new world order” after the Russian revolution in the 20s (and this was why the topic is titled “Utopian visions”). Malevich also used geometric abstraction in his art to convey spiritualism, of depicting a higher plane of thinking or being or whatever it was that they called it back then. He had this one very striking (but, in my opinion, rather pretentious) painting called White On White. I didn’t get what it meant, but I thought this painting represented the idea of “suprematism” very well.
Another person who didn’t get Malevich’s painting was Malevich’s rival, Aleksander Rodchenko, who led the movement called constructivism. He painted a response to Malevich’s White On White, called Black on Black, and he was also of the opinion that painting alone could not achieve a “new world order”. He instead thought it could only be achieved through avant-garde constructions.
Either way, the so-called Utopian Visions - the idea that art could change he world and bring a new order to it - was something so idealistic that it failed to do much to change the world. But this whole thing apparently sparked dialogues between artists and influenced other artists and movements afterwards.
What was different from this MoMA lecture, which made it simultaneously more complex and more interesting, was the explanation on the technique of one of the featured paintings. We were shown a video of Piet Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie Woogie where two lecturers explained to us how the painting was made (using adhesive tapes at the beginning). Exploring the technique used on this work emphasized Mondrian’s obsession with neatness but we also learned that he was still very intuitive with his works. Fascinating.
This is easily one of my favorite topics, not only because Amedeo Modigliani was Italian and had been famously portrayed in a couple of movies (and looked a bit like Colin Firth), it was also because the art ‘movement’ he represented was not a movement at all.
He belonged the the School of Paris, a group of artists in the early 20th century who used to hang out in Montmartre and Montparnasse (Picasso, Chagall, Mondrian included) that exchanged ideas (or traded insults) on art. They primarily frequented the cafe, La Rotonde in Montparnasse, pre-World War I, and did their things together.
The idea of a group of artists coming together in a casual setting appealed to me because I do often feel like great things can emerge from discussions. I’m not an artist but I often find myself talking to my fellow MoMAClass friends, discussing various things, right after the MoMA lectures on Saturdays. So it’s a direct experience that I can relate to with the people in the School of Paris. And although we may not come up with grand ideas or works of art, there are these discussions that inspire me and stay with me long after they’ve ended.
But there was also a matter of Modigliani’s art that was described as “simplified, elegant with elongated lines and oval shapes”. His art, though mainly made up of portraits, is much classier than the works of other artists at the time, and I really like that elegance that his paintings carried. His shading technique was also something to marvel at because, despite the rough brushstrokes, we could see that he took his coloring very seriously. And the intimacy that his paintings showed on canvas was simply stunning!
We also heard about the neo-classical works of Picasso and Leger, the so-called “return to order”, after the Great War. Although it was interesting to see how these artists depicted classical themes, it seemed to be mostly at odds with the ‘modern art’ methods that they applied on the paintings. Which is why, I think, I kept coming back to admiring Modigliani’s works instead of finding out more about the post-WWI neo-classic paintings.
Finally this week we moved on to one of the highlights of modern art, Picasso. I’m not a huge fan of Picasso at all and I still don’t get why he had to do art the way he did… but after today, I learned that perhaps it was not Picasso’s fault at all that he distorts art the way he did.
Apparently, he had a contemporary named Georges Braque who was very close friends to him (the way Sherlock Holmes was close to John Watson, I suppose). Braque was the “brain of their partnership” as he’d been the one who invented a lot of the cubism techniques that Picasso later made famous through his art.
There was also a correlated art movement in Italy called Futurism, started by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti. He published a Futurist Manifesto and was later joined by a few artists and a composer.
One of those artists was Umberto Boccioni. His works conveyed dynamism, speed and movement - the shapes on his paintings and his sculptures fluid and very non-static. One of the sculptures shown was Unique Forms of Continuity in Space.
Unique Forms of Continuity in Space by Umberto Boccioni
As soon as I laid eyes on it, the first thing that came to mind was, “Transformers! This could be one of the Autobots or Decepticons.” No further explanations needed.
The Futurists apparently appreciated what Picasso was doing to art but they also felt that it was still too static and “two-dimensional” for them. Considering that they were into race cars (I don’t know how; the remark was mentioned in passing by the lecturer on the video), I can see how using newspaper cutouts on one’s painting was not exciting enough for them.