July 12th, 2010 17:26 EST
Sufferers of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Should Avoid The Museum of Modern Art
If you suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, as I do, do not on your life visit The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City this summer. The entire museum reverberates with amplified shrieks.
So ear-splitting and disturbing were the screams of kids and adults that I began searching the walls for those right-angle cracks that organs sometimes make in the walls and ceilings of churches too small for them.
The whole abominable exercise in smart-ass curatorship is actually a reprise of Yoko Ono`s 1961 Voice Piece for Soprano. Visitors are invited to scream into an amplified microphone in the second floor atrium of the museum. (Marilyn Penn describes the installation at politicalmavens.com.)
A museum that purports to care about the disabled and is indeed required by law to make itself hospitable to them should have thought twice before subjecting the innocent to this atrocity. It would be cruel if not criminal to come up behind a sufferer of PTSD and shout; how then is this curatorial snit justifiable?
But this adolescent exercise in hostility towards patrons is not the only deplorable experience awaiting visitors to MoMA. They are not the only ones having a hard time at the hands of MoMA`s curators. The vast majority of Arabs who are not terrorists are having a very bad summer at the hands of the juvenile delinquents at MoMA.
Currents, a 1970 Robert Rauschenberg screenprint installation, consisting of headline and news clipping montages, is equally loud, inappropriate and dated in its own way. The two boldest headlines are these:
U.S. Tourist Bus
Baptist Minister`s Wife Killed
We Bombed Jet
47 Die in Israel-Bound Plane
Elsewhere a lesser headline says, Arab Bombs Miss Dayan`s Son.
I won`t quarrel with the arguable language of these tabloids, tabloids being what they are, alarmist and head-knocking. But I couldn`t help thinking how much these screenprints resemble cable news` performance in the run-up to the Iraq war.
While it`s interesting from an art-historical perspective that Rauschenberg chose these headlines, it`s even more interesting that MoMA chose to show this installation in an historic moment of anti-Arab fervor. The curators could have mounted a show of modern Arab calligraphy or architecture, both of which are beautiful. They could have explored the exciting scene of modern North African art. But they chose this set piece presumably because it hasn`t been shown at MoMA before and is by an artist MoMA has already helped make famous.
The show is therefore neither adventurous nor relevant.
I am a longtime member of MoMA and I treasure my many memories of time spent there, so it was all the more shocking to endure such a detestable experience. Shock and awe "as juvenile as our Middle East operations.
You could argue that Currents is only incidentally arabophobic in a time when arabophobia is generously sanctioned, but that hardly excuses MoMA for the unseemliness of the gesture and it raises issues about the cultural maturity of its curatorial decisions. This is not a free speech issue, it is a bad taste issue.
The MoMA curators have rubbed salt in a political and cultural wound with precious little warrant and crossed a none too fine line between exhibition and exhibitionism.
I think none of us fully succeeds in growing up, and the best I can say of Currents and Shriek " is that they reflect the difficulty of doing so.
Djelloul (jeh-lool) Marbrook was born in 1934 in Algiers to a Bedouin father and an American painter. He grew up in Brooklyn, West Islip and Manhattan, New York, where he attended Dwight Preparatory School and Columbia. He then served in the U.S. Navy.
His book of poems, Far From Algiers, won the Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize from Kent State University in 2007 and was published in 2008. His story, Artists Hill, adapted from the second novel of an unpublished trilogy, won the Literal LattÃ© first prize in fiction in 2008. His poems have been published in The American Poetry Review, Barrow Street, poemeleon, The Same, and other journals. The pioneering e-book publisher, Online Originals (UK), published his novella, Alice MIller`s Room, in 1999.He worked as a reporter for The Providence Journal and as an editor for The Elmira (NY) Star-Gazette, The Baltimore Sun, The Winston-Salem Journal & Sentinel and The Washington Star. Later he worked as executive editor of four small dailies in northeast Ohio and two medium-size dailies in northern New Jersey.
Del`s book, Far From Algiers: http://upress.kent.edu/books/Marbrook_D.htm
New review of Far from Algiers: http://www.rattle.com/blog/2009/05/far-from-algiers-by-djelloul-marbrook/
Artists Hill, Literal LattÃ©`s fiction first prize: http://www.literal-latte.com/author/djelloulmarbrook/
His blog: http://www.djelloulmarbrook.com
His mother`s art: http://www.juanitaguccione.com
His aunt`s art: http://www.irenericepereira.com