Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Art and Identity: The Museum of Modern Art

Identity in art is one the most prominent qualities one will find when cross-examining a work of art. Whether it is an artist’s individual, cultural or historical identity, the environment in which an artist produces work greatly affects the final outcome which we as viewers get to enjoy and dissect. On our trip to the Museum of Modern art, our objective was to find three works of art that pertain to those three qualities respectively. 
As you enter the Contemporary Galleries (1980-Now) on the second floor of the MOMA, the first painting you will see is one by Henry Taylor, a Los Angeles painter who makes portraits of an assortment of different people in his life. In “Untitled”, he chose to depict his friend Will Gillespie (nephew of the great American jazz trumpeter, Dizzy Gillespie). In the painting, Taylor alludes to Gillespie’s Buddhist belief by depicting him with a Tibetan necklace and his hands in a prayer-like position, giving us an empathetic window into the relationship between artist and subject. Taylor’s quick way of painting gives the work an intimate yet immediate feel, almost as if you could picture being in the room as he quickly painted his friend while they conversed. The honest and simple portrayal of this work lends a keen individual quality to the viewer and allows them to be a part of this intimate moment between two friends.
In the photography exhibit, you will find such works by Hank Willis Thomas, a contemporary African-American visual artist and photographer. Thomas tackles cultural issues such as race, advertising, and popular culture, which is evident in his series titled Unbranded, where he removes logos and slogans from advertisements that feature black bodies, leaving them to “speak for themselves.” In works such as “Jungle Fever” the issue of racial equality is evident. Two hands, gently interlocked; one is of a white woman wearing red nail polish, the other: an African American male. With such depictions as this Thomas posits the still controversial concept of interracial relationships and the discomfort that it may still cause to some in our society. What is also interesting is that by nature of the series we know that this photograph was meant to advertise some sort of product which makes the image all the more intriguing. 
One work of art that may not be of any novelty but still contain a certain level of innovation to most is “Starry Night” by Vincent Van Gogh. “Starry Night” is a painting that has proven its emotional and historical timelessness to those who can appreciate its genius. Although smaller in size than one would guess, Van Gogh’s masterpiece continues to enthrall viewers, with its swirls of sky and expressive brushstrokes, it seems to swim before your eyes (this particular style, being one of its most prominent features.) Van Gogh was infamously ahead of his time, painting in what would be known in the early twentieth century as Expressionism. He paved the way, as many genius artists do, and took the brunt of a stubborn and fixed society in order for the next generations of artist to more easily continue to stretch the limits of what is possible in the designated art form. 
Whatever identity possesses an artist, it will always give their work a sense personality and context. Allowing the audience to connect to the piece no matter how much time has passed or how much the zeitgeist has shifted.  The distinctiveness of a work of art will forever be the main attractive quality that keeps the attention of a viewer no matter the time or place.

Henry Taylor
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
78 x 62"

Hank Willis Thomas
"Jungle Fever"
Chromogenic color print
29 3/4 x 23 15/16"

Vincent Van Gogh
"Starry Night"
Oil on canvas
29 x 36 1/4"

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