[Marxism] bourgeois art

Lance Murdoch lancemurdoch at gmail.com
Sun Dec 17 21:07:25 MST 2006

I have gone back to school part time, and one of my recent assignments
was to go to a museum in New York City and review a painting or
sculpture, and among other things talk about the historical context
around it.  I was also given a list of museums to go to (Met, MoMa,
Whitney, Guggenheim), although if I had asked I probably could have
gone to another museum.

The first thing I wanted to do was see a socialist realist painting.
I was browsing a book of post-revolution art in a bookstore recently
and was struck by two paintings.  One was not that many years after
the revolution and was of a red balloon floating into the sky, it was
called "The Balloon Flies Away" or something like that.  Another was a
socialist realist painting of Lenin's funeral which I forget the name

Anyhow, the Guggenheim had a show of it years ago but no more.  I
couldn't find any socialist realist stuff in New York City, nor
post-revolution stuff like Suprematism.  I admit I didn't do an
extensive search, but this just didn't seem like the type of thing
anyone was interested in.

So then I looked for US type social realism and there didn't seem to
be a lot of that either.  I did see Ben Shahn's Passion of Sacco and
Vanzetti listed at the Whitney, so I decided to go there.

The Whitney was founded by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, and to me was
as alienating as one might expect from that legacy.  I spent 15
minutes at the front desk with them looking for what floor the
painting was on, before they told me it wasn't there (which I still am
not sure of, but that's what they said).  No photos allowed, bags must
be checked and so forth.  Looking at the crowd, I thought of Annie
Hall when Woody Allen stands behind someone talking about McLuhan

There was a floor of Picasso paintings, specifically, Picasso
paintings and then Americans like De Kooning, Pollock, Warhol, Jasper
Johns copying what he did in a derivative fashion.  It was sponsored
by the CIT corporation.  I jotted down some things about a few Picasso
paintings I might not see or think of later when looking at a picture
of it online and split.

Anyhow, my friend wanted to go to the Modern Museum of Art a week
later, so I went, thinking maybe I'd see something I could use for
class.  Did not see much online, although they did have some Jacob
Lawrence paintings online, who covered the plight of African-Americans
moving north.  When I got to the museum I was told like at the
Whitney, no, there are no Lawrence's hanging up at the moment.  I also
had read about how Moma was associated with the Congress of Cultural
Freedom, how the Rockefeller's had wanted it as a venue for
"capitalist" art.  Mark Rothko, one of the anti-communists they gave
money to was on display, unlike Lawrence.

I did see a little loudspeaker stand for the Fifth Anniversary of the
Russian Revolution.  I wasn't sure if it would be OK for sculpture
within the bounds of my report.  Finally I did stumble across a
painting that spoke to me, I'm not sure how it snuck in there.

A real modern museum of art would show the works of Eric Drooker, Seth
Tobocman, Peter Kuper, Christopher Cardinale and so forth.  I don't
think CIT will be sponsoring them soon though.  I guess I have to keep
my eyes open for out of the way gallery openings and the like to see
what is coming out now.  I don't even know where social realist work
is displayed any more.

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