What I Saw When I Could Walk, pt. 1

In a kind of follow-up to yesterday’s post, in which I discussed exhibitions I would see if it were not for my temporary disability, I will discuss what exhibitions I have seen recently. It occurs to me my posts have been quite long, and also that I’m starting to run out of things to talk about. Rather than talk about 4 exhibitions in one post, I’ll spread it out, so I can keep up my once a day posting without running out or spending hours a day on one post.

The first few exhibitions I saw over a month ago so forgive me if my recollection is hazy. In early June, I made a quick weekend trip to New York in order to see some exhibitions before they closed.


I’m very interested in shows that recreate collections or exhibitions that were formative in the history of modern art (I would love to see an as-full-as-possible 1913 Armory Show recreation–some were done before my time, and the New York Historical Society will be doing a 100th anniversary show, though it doesn’t sound like a recreation per se). However, they tend to be disappointing. You go, hoping to step into a time machine, into an authentic and transporting recreation of the Stein salon. Of course, this is an impossible and unrealistic expectation, especially given how much the collection evolved over time. In their closest attempt to present the spaces as they were, they projected photographs onto a three-walled white cube, showing the chronological progression of the Steins’ apartments with the artwork on the walls. This presentation was sterile and unengaging.

The exhibition itself also proceeded chronologically, giving each gallery over to a certain combination of family members (Leo and Gertrude, Michael and Sarah, Gertrude and Alice) and/or to a particular place they lived. My overall complaint is that it was too big, and too much. Instead of choosing the best representative sample of a certain period/style of Matisse painting, a whole wall would be devoted to 12 of them, most relatively minor examples. This is a good argument against my wish for complete recreation, and instead for selective and concise curating.

The length and density of the exhibition caused visual fatigue, which led to only a few glorious “a-ha” moments (pictured below), an unfortunate ratio given what masterpieces were contained here. Selecting for quality over quantity would have given the works room to breathe, to hold their own, thereby increasing both the relative number of great paintings on view, and the ability to enjoy them. (I went on the last day of the show, a Sunday, and so the dense crowds were also detrimental to my enjoyment.)


Fatiguing also were the lengthy wall texts describing the family’s history of collecting. This is of course the actual subject of the exhibition, but after awhile I felt that if I really wanted to know, I’d read the book, especially when I found myself curious about key facts that seemed to be missing. For example, every label had the year span that the Steins owned that particular piece. Most of the deaccession dates were before the death of the collectors, but with the exception of the Leo and Gertrude separation, the reasons and method of the collection’s various dispersals were not explained. At one point a text mentions Michael Stein shipping a good chunk off to the Cone sisters, but it is not clear whose works, which works, how many or why, and if they were bought or given.

Stay tuned tomorrow for MoMA’s Cindy Sherman retrospective, and my celebrity siting therein!

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