Imagine that you’re attending a performance of one of your favorite musician’s works and that the sounds coming from a heavy metal band playing outside seep through and prevent you from enjoying the concert that you had originally set out to attend. You may feel somewhat frustrated by this unexpected intrusion. Something more or less similar happened to me as I was beginning to concentrate on viewing Rodin’s sculpture of Balzac on the MoMa’s ground floor. Scottish artist Jim Lambie (b.1964) had covered the floor of the exhibition room with bright, flashy stripes.
While it may seem old-fashioned to declare one’s love for painting and sculpture in these art forms’ most traditional meaning, I have to admit that Rodin is one of my favorite sculptors. I find some sort of intuition present in his works’ execution, as in Picasso’s paintings or Calder’s drawings. In Rodin, the textures, the characters’ traits, their hands’ expressivity, their stance’s energy all seem to have been produced in one sitting, with amazing ease, as if the artist had simply played with the clay or the marble or as if his fingers had slid over them with the same natural movement with which one spins a door’s handle. When I visit the MoMA every Friday, I usually like to stop and contemplate that statue of Balzac. During the last few weekly visits, I had to renounce to this because the floor’s flashy stripes prevented me from gathering even an ounce of concentration, to such an extent that I even began to consciously avoid them. I am now getting used to heading directly towards the first floor, where I enjoy getting lost among the luminous effects created by the Icelandic artist Oliassen. Then, I proceed to other rooms.
Before I leave the museum, I see a young woman lying down on ZOBOP, the title of Lambie’s work. She seems to feel so happy, stretched on her back like a cat, her arms crossed on her face. Her boyfriend also seems very pleased to be there, as he sits next to her, his legs crossed. They take a few pictures of each other with the digital camera that they brought along, and they exchange a few caresses. I notice the sheen of ZOPOP’s colors and they seem to posses the chromatic intensity that one could expect from our twentieth century. This could also be a place to sit back. It occurs to me that this may be the installation’s meaning, and that it can be seen as an action that allows us to spend a while in an unconventional place. Rodin’s sculpture even adds a touch of strangeness to all of this, and it seemed to me that my stubborn insistence on isolating the Balzac sculpture from its context had been misplaced. Instead, I should have paid attention to the space that Lambie’s installation had created, along with the visual short-circuit that it had caused. The colored stripes questioned the usual way in which I appreciate a work of art. In fact, maybe the installation was meant to underscore how hard it now was for me to enjoy the Balzac. Perhaps the Scottish artist was using the audience’s experience to demonstrate that in the vertiginous world in which we live, aesthetic pleasure is seriously threatened by the surrounding visual violence. While the exhibit was on, Rodin’s statue had become an integral part ZOPOP. Although it seemed that Lambie had taken it hostage, he had used it to his convenience. Maybe I had even been too strict as I rushed to dismiss that bothersome flooring in my attempt too focus exclusively on specific subtleties of Rodin’s sculpture. Next month, I will once again be able to contemplate the image of Balzac but, until then, maybe I should also stretch out on the stripes and listen to Black Sabbath’s wonderful “Paranoid,” letting the heavy metal music seep through.
As I exit the museum, I have the impression that I’ve learned something, but I also hope that Lambie and the MoMa’s curators won’t attempt to make us view The Young Ladies of Avignon on a background of flashy stripes. I can’t see how they would be able to set a beautiful young woman in the wall.