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Surprises Abound

It's nice to have some real surprises when out and about looking at art. Maybe it's because of the celebrations and good karma surrounding my birth-week or the amazing spring-summer weather, but I actually came across some rare must-see exhibits in New York this week.

The first is Barbara Kruger's multiple-channel video installation The Globe Shrinks at Mary Boone. It's a polished, in-your-face delivery that Kruger is known for: in this instance, opposing screens interact in dialog or a common vignette of our time, such as a woman driving along in a big-ass SUV oblivious to the frustrated driver behind her. The frustration is transferred to the viewer: it's a common driving experience, and the energy is palpable.

My next surprises were at MoMA. It's spring break week, the city is nuts with school groups and tourists, and I wasn't sure what to expect but the worst (I'm not a group person). Well, sure enough, the galleries were packed, but it worked. The three exhibits I wanted to see were perfectly suited for marauding hordes.

The exhibit by William Kentridge, the South African master draftsman and videographer, Five Themes, rambles through the second floor galleries, allowing for a free flow of visitors, with visual treats around every corner. Kentridge has to be one of the most prolific artists working today, producing sculpture, collage, prints, and his animated films that turn his charcoal drawings into a magical performance. He's quite amazing.

Maria Abramvic: The Artist Is Present covers four decades of performance, installation, and photos and as with Kentridge, this exhibit also covers some gallery space, flowing through half the sixth floor and the entire atrium space, where the artist herself is in residence in a daily stare-off. It's bold and dramatic, and it captivates gallery visitors for long stretches of time, a rare feat.

Many Abramovic performances involve nudes. Nudity alone would conjure thoughts of vulnerability, but it's we the fully clothed visitors who feel uncomfortable and out of place. When we attempt to gingerly sneak between the couple in Imponderabilia (shown here, from a previous performance) or the piercing eye contact with the performer of Luminosity, perched on the wall, crucified perhaps, but still passionate and still emotionally in control. I actually felt a sharp pain in my side as I stood in the space, breathing in unison with her. It's as powerful and moving as any ancient icon I've witnessed.

Also on the sixth floor is Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Modern Century. Bresson was the original master of point-and-shoot street photography, all over the world! It's a great show. I especially like the early work of the 30s, when he was everywhere with camera in hand. I wonder what he would think of the pocket cameras of today. The odd issue here for me is to have an exhibition of a photographer and not allow photography in the gallery: the rules governing the usage of Bresson imagery border on paranoia. It's unfortunate, but no reason to miss the good times at MoMA.

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