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Today my visiting-from-LA sister and I braved the midtown crowds, Christmas-crazed and gift-bogged that they were, to venture up to the MOMA. I was there during the erstwhile summer months to check out the Richard Serra exhibit – but it was sis’s first trip in a while. The initially daunting line notwithstanding, the entrance fee (one genuine student and one fake student: $8 off the entrance price!) paid and complimentary coat check checked, we headed into the depths to check out this “art” thing.

In one of the first main galleries we encountered HUGE wood pieces – a convoluted and slightly arthritic looking ladder was suspended above our heads and extended into the horizon. Or rather, as your eye traveled up the length of the ladder you saw that the physical narrowing of the piece itself tricked your eye into thinking it was significantly longer than it actually was. The same was true for a contraption with a huge base of treated wood that was topped with a long, unfinished piece of wood that extended into the air and narrowed to a deceiving point.

ladder
“Ladder for Booker T. Washington.” Am I as long as you think I am?

The most interesting art for me retains a flickering quality, where opposed ideas can be held in a tense coexistence. – Martin Puryear, 2007

I like reading the artists’ quotes and curators’ statements at exhibits like this. Being left alone to contextualize a roll of paper suspended from the ceiling and dribbled with ketchup and graphite can be a daunting task – at least when I’m reading I know the right spot to nod or furrow my brow. So I guess Martin Puryear’s quote above, whose art I was so admiring, helps me get the juxtapositions of space and solid, flexibility and rigidity, that he’s getting at with his pieces. But all these highfalootin’ words can’t do justice to the strength, comfort, and appeal of these huge wooden pieces.

Upon viewing Puryear’s gallery as it continued on the 6th floor, I decided that the dude has a thing for dinosaurs. (Who doesn’t?) Several pieces significantly resembled brontosauruses (brontonsauri), with lofty necks extending at a graceful angle from a grounded, boxy base.

puryearlever.jpg
“Lever #1.” I look like a dinosaur.

Another theme running through Puryear’s work was a recreation of lattice work that at first glance looked pliable, and on second look was revealed to be rigid pieces of wood coaxed and stapled and glued into curving, organic looking shapes. The space inside these overturned baskets was a nice place to dwell mentally, and I imagined curling up comfortably inside a few of the larger ones.

Brunhilde
Big enough to hide in. Small enough to love. “Brunhilde”

So instead of taking a trip all the way up to Sturbridge Village to see quaint handicrafts, take a shorter trip to the MOMA and see quaint handicrafts, rendered in mammoth proportions. When a lot of art is exhausting to look at and doesn’t leave me feeling any better equipped to do, well, anything, Puryear’s sculptures really did seem to have something to say about the relationships between carved wood and the hands that carve them, and the natural world and the Brooklyn world we live in.

Martin Puryear’s exhibition is at the MOMA through January 14, 2008.

The MOMA costs $20 for adults and $12 if you still have your student ID. Every Friday 4-8 PM is free. The cost of admission also gets you into PS 1 for free if you go within a month.

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