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Monday, July 4, 2011

Summer of Stein

It took us three visits to get to the end of The Steins Collect exhibit at the MOMA.  It is true:  the fact that the MOMA got all these paintings from varied collections to show at this one time and location is a monumental accomplishment--a coup of great social and political import.  Seeing this collection assembled in a set of rooms you can wander aimlessly through (provided you forgo the ear bud propaganda) is an experience that can help you imagine the experience and power of having original art in your home.  Art you chose because you felt something resonate between the two of you:  yourself and the picture, recalling Alice's insight, "you don't know a painting until you've dusted it." 

But when you snake through the exhibit, careful to avoid overhearing the docents, you arrive at the last exhibit room:  the propaganda kiosk.  I took note of this room on our first visit to the exhibit.  They had Alice's cookbook, The Making Of Americans (I assume to coincide with SPT's day long reading.), Gertrude's Picasso,  and a bunch of adult and children's books about Matisse, Picasso and Paris.  You could hardly comprehend that Ms. Stein was a writer.  I believe the MOMA prides itself on leading the pack, visually and culturally:  I though they'd foreground Ms. Stein's literary accomplishments and her role as collaborator, mentor and patron.  I lost my decorum when I saw the black t-shirt with the white lettering:  You can either buy clothes or buy pictures. 

This line appears in Hemingway's A Moveable Feast (which I'm surprised they didn't have on stock), from the chapter "Miss Stein Instructs."   At this point in the chapter Hemingway is recounting the afternoon Ms. Stein "told [them], too, how to buy pictures."

"You can either buy clothes or buy pictures," she said.  "It's that simple.  No one who is not very rich can do both.  Pay no attention to your clothes and no attention at all to the mode, and buy your clothes for comfort and durability, and you will have the clothes money to buy pictures."

"But even if I never bought anymore clothing ever," I said, "I wouldn't have enough money to buy the Picasso's I want."

"No.  He's out of your range.  You  have to buy the people of your own age. . .There are always good new serious painters."     

Given their (SF MOMA) fascination with Matthew Barney I don't think irony is their strong point.  The point of the t-shirts, the posters, the Print On Demand photocopies misses the significance and importance of the nexus created by the Steins. 

If you want to see Henri Matisse go to the MOMA.  If you're looking for a more nuanced discussion of this nexus head out the door, up the street and over to the Contemporary Jewish Museum where the emphasis is on seeing Ms. Stein and Ms. Toklas.

"The premise is that material objects, whether fine art, household artifacts, or curious possessions, highbrow or lowbrow, that belonged to Stein and Toklas could, if read closely, yield fresh insights about them and their universe."

The Contemporary Jewish museum presents Five Stories:  Picturing Gertrude, Domestic Stein, Art of Friendship, Celebrity Stein and Legacies.   This exhibit looks at Stein, her home, her body, her image, her artistic process, her creative relationships and her lover. 

Gertrude:  patron, husband, writer and friend.

Kundera writes about Bach:

"The historical position of Bach's work therefore reveals what later generations had begun to forget—that history is not necessarily a path climbing upward (toward the richer, the more cultivated), that the demands of art may be counter to the demands of the moment (of this or that modernity), and that the new (the unique, the inimitable, the previously unsaid) might lie in some direction other than the one everybody sees as progress."

These words could have been said about Gertrude and Alice, about the Steins and their collections; I will revisit them during the course of this series.

In the current arena of buying and selling (aka, get the rake, the artist is dead):  the Picasso circle jerk at the deYoung in the name of membership and cultural hegemony (including their decision to limit tickets for members, a change in policy members only learn about, after renewals), the bottom lines decision makers, and the proliferation of giclée prints and fine oil arts available at Aaron Brothers, very few people own original art they can dust.  Part of the problem resides in the fact that "people want art ( or an immediate return on investment), but they don't want artists."  (Niki Lee)  Gertrude and Alice's apartments and lives reveal a bit of the historical and artistic significance of artists supporting artists—financially as well as artistically.  Their lives (and this exhibit) demonstrate the intricacies, difficulties and absurdities necessary to survive "the wars I've seen," those foreign and domestic.

What does it mean to be a writer, an artist, a homemaker and a homo, then and now—in the day to day and over a lifetime, even those subject to revision for a SKU and a kiosk.

About Me

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I believe we can be more beautiful than broken. Devotion to language and literature, stories and storytelling, writing and reading will restore humanity and heal severed relations. There is no alibi in being.