Museum Visit: MoMA

I started writing this sitting in the MoMA lobby, vast in its verticality, waiting for my sister to join me for the first post-school museum visit. I certainly thought I would get to an exhibit sooner, but alas life got in the way (side note: I love Sister Hazel).
We knew walking in that we would probably limit ourselves to one exhibit so we could take our time and really enjoy it. I was thinking “Exquisite Corpses”, “Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream”, or “Ecstatic Alphabets/Heaps of Language”. Really we would have loved to go to the Cindy Sherman exhibit since I spent an entire semester on it with the rest of my class and my sister hadn’t seen it yet, but June 11th was the last day so that was out. When my sister got there she told me she had already seen “Foreclosed” and didn’t want to see the other two so we decided to decide on something but didn’t actually make a decision because we kept getting distracted.

We ended up wandering somewhat randomly because we were, as usual, keeping up with several conversations at once. We eventually focused and decided to see the “New to the Print Collection: Matisse to Bourgeois” but on our discombobulated way there we passed something else.

Felix Gonzalez-Torres, an artist I was until now unfamiliar with, had a small room filled with his work “Untitled” (Placebo).


What really stopped us in our tracks is that the security guard was bent over this sea of silver and seemed to be encouraging this couple to touch it. Then I saw one of them take some! Okay I was obviously witness to a museum robbery in the making and the security guard was in on it. It was up to us to save the MoMA!
It must have taken me a full minute longer than my sister to understand what was really going on because by the time I figured it out she was already speaking to the guard. He told us to take some ( and by “told us to take some” I mean he said we would ruin his day if we didn’t).
He told us that we should take some or throw some, but definitely to eat some. So not only was the security guard not standing “guard” stoic and silent except for the occasional “no eating in here, ma’am” (that totally happened to me in another exhibit), he was actually encouraging us to interact mess with the original setup! Or so we thought. He also told us that they change the candy every day with a new flavor and most interestingly, refused to actually answer any of our questions about his role in all of this.
He would sidestep the question with “You gotta try this. You gotta taste this. It’s just gonna go to waste and the museum already paid for it.” At that point, I had taken a look at the wall text and gotten some sort of context for the whole thing.
 The first paragraph speak about Gonzalez-Torres as an artist and the second paragraph gives an explanation for this piece specifically:
“Gonzalez-Torres made “Untitled” (Placebo), an expanse of shimmering, silver-wrapped candy, after his partner, Ross Laycock, died of AIDS-related complications in 1991; the work’s title reflects broadly on the incurability of the illness. Visitors are invited to take a piece of candy from the pile (which is eventually replenished), activating a continuous process of depletion and regeneration.”
The thing is, what interested both of us more than the actual piece, was the security guard’s role. He was actively engaging visitors, which in itself is completely unusual (see Fred Wilson’s “Guarded View” at the Whitney) and he was encouraging visitors to interact with the art (more common in contemporary art, but still not completely mainstream), AND he was telling visitors to literally “take a piece home”. When does that happen?
We did go on to see the new additions to the prints collection, but this really struck both of us. Have you ever been particularly struck by an unconventional piece of art or by what surrounds it?
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