I raced to see MoMA PS1‘s “Now Dig This!” only a few hours before I had to catch a plane to London. It wasn’t until I stood before the admissions desk that I realized I had not brought a single penny to pay the “suggested donation.” After dramatically explaining my stupidity to the agent I was granted entrance; I share this because I firmly believe there is more to an art viewing than just the works themselves. Like life, art is multifaceted and the voyage to and from can be rife with more meaning than the mere “main event.” With this near miss behind me, I was ever more excited with the prospect of laying bare this collection of inspired black artwork.
Made with Cotton, Sweat and Blood
The moment I stepped inside the gallery the words “dark,” “deep,” “rich” and “haunting” came to mind. There is art and then there is ART. The latter has a story, a mission, a message and a voice which makes it jump straight into the heart and soul of the viewer. “Now Dig This!” showcased great American artists based in Los Angeles and melded their feelings about race, their mired history and the questionable future of an entire culture.
David Hammons’s “America the Beautiful” (1968) on show at the MoMA PS1. Photo: MoMA
There was nothing ordinary or bland about the first piece “Cotton Hangup” by Melvin Edwards: in fact, it seemed the perfect work to get visitors ready for what was to come. The journey from the entrance to the exit seemed symbolic in itself; you come through a small entryway and are abruptly attacked with the sight of a crude black metallic beast –or perhaps it is a human, the features are so distorted with pain and restrained by a rectangle of metal rods, one cannot tell what this figure is exactly. What is obvious is that it is something locked in, tortured and lost. I found it amazing that cotton, such a soft natural fiber, could make life so tough for so many thousands of people. I could not bear to look at this hanging corpse for long, it reminded me of the way cotton picking weakened the body and crippled it, while the labor itself tore at the very soul.
Too Cold, Too Hot…Just Right!
Moving on I found the movement between rooms quite fluid. In each room there were a handful of striking works that caught the eye and entranced the spirit. Some were subtle, like William Pajaud’s “Sea Rhythms,” a symphony of blues, grays and whites creating a stormy sea. Yet if you passed too quickly and assumed too much, you would overlook the small puddles of red spattered within: they were in fact blood pools and reminded the astute viewer of the horrible slaughter and degradation of the Atlantic slave crossing.