Visiting a Modern Art Museum in Los Angeles

la art

I was in Los Angeles for some work this week. Given that I’m traveling a lot these days, I’m trying to make more of an effort to enjoy the cities I’m working in.

So between meetings, I snuck away to the Museum of Contemporary Art.

Some reflections:

1. I knew that I would have a negative initial reaction to much of the art. I generally enjoy little of modern art, but the pieces I do enjoy, I tend to love. So I was worried that I would judge the art too harshly and overlook a piece of art that I might actually love. I therefore went in with this in mind: someone thinks this art is amazing; they know a lot more about art than I do; so I should try to understand why they think this art is so great.

2. To ensure I was giving each piece its due, I inquired about an audio guide, which I generally like to use at art museums. They did not have an audio guide. Instead, they had a system where you could use your cell phone to call a number, which then instructed you to press the number of the piece of art you were looking at. I found this terribly annoying, both because I had to keep on calling this number, and also because the actual audio narration was not very informative.

3. I did not like most of the pieces of art. If I had to summarize why I didn’t like them, I would say that they were on the whole self-absorbed, simple, and aesthetically unpleasing. I am open to the idea that if I had a better understanding of art I would have¬†better appreciated the work.

4. My favorite piece was by Jasper Johns. An image of it is below:


4. There were numerous school groups there. Most of the students seemed to be late elementary to early middle school. I was curious about how they were being instructed, so I eased dropped often. I was not impressed with the instruction; the question asking was of low-quality and mostly centered on technical aspects of the art. I heard remarkably few questions about what the artists were trying to convey.

5. The students seemed to be divide into roughly two categories: those who were earnestly engaged and those were totally checked out. Given the low-quality of the instruction, and the banality of much of the art, I was surprised at how many students remained engaged. I felt bad for them; mostly because I was thinking: you deserve so much better.

6. But I had a quite pleasurable experience. I loved the Jasper Johns piece. I enjoyed the general aesthetic of the museum as a whole. And, most of all, I loved the way the experience slowed mind, caused me to reflect on issues other than education, and brought forth a feeling of mental peacefulness.

7. In some sense, I enjoy art museums as I much as I enjoy art.

I hope to visit more museums as I continue to travel.

Conflict Note: Eli Broad, who has funded some of my work, has also donated to the Museum of Contemporary Art. I don’t think this influenced my opinions, but one never knows. Maybe my fondness of the Jasper Johns piece is really just my subconscious trying to secure additional¬†work with the Broad Foundation.

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