Writing. Design. Social Change.

Posts tagged ‘MOMA’

The most important exhibit of the summer (for me) is Taryn Simon’s  A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters 1-XVIII. (At MOMA until September 3). It’s about bloodlines and their stories. (Or stories and their bloodlines…) The story sequences have a lot to do with inheritance and chance (or fate, if you will). One story traces an Indian man’s family who was declared dead so that other relatives could seize (inherit) their ancestral farmland.

Taryn Simon Exhibit

Another story depicts the bloodline of the first woman to highjack an aircraft. Another story tells of the descendants of Hans Frank, the Nazi governor of Poland.

Another shows the faces of the children at an orphanage in the Ukraine who will inevitably become victims of human trafficking once they reach the age of 16.

One of the most chilling aspects of the exhibit is the interruptions in the story sequences. At times, a panel in a sequence stares back vacantly. The individual could not be photographed due to religious reasons. Or chose not to out of fear. Or shame. Some individuals sent their clothes to be photographed in their stead.

Viewing, I noticed how the story was different for each viewer, depending on the their choices, their attention span, how they chose to navigate through the image, text and footnote panels (or not).

Viewing, I noticed how our own stories are affected by chance, bloodlines, and circumstance, too. What would our own stories look like, cataloged, curated, made visible, up there on the wall? I think of my friends of American Indian ancestry and their stories. And my neighbor’s stories. I think of my adopted friends and their stories. And my new friends, TEDx organizers from around the globe.

The exhibit is complex, absolute, devastating, human, stunning, beautiful. I’ve known this for some time…Taryn Simon is among the most important artists of our time. And I would really like to meet her. Saying this, I know… the wheel is now in motion.

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The Cindy Sherman retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art on Sunday afternoon.I’ve loved Cindy Sherman’s work since my first glimpse of her Untitled Film Stills from the 1970s. The kind of work where you meet an array of compelling characters (Girl Fridays, centerfolds, film noir heroines) and make up the story as you go along.

Something about this retrospective brought me back to my days playing Barbie. My parents refused to let me have a Ken doll, so in a desperate move, my neighbor and I cut off Barbie’s hair, snipped off her high-heeled feet, and ground her breasts into plastic dust on the sidewalk.

Voilà, Ken.


You must believe me when I tell you that we used our Ken doll. We put him through all the moves, all the scenarios, all the silly, dark, soap operatic passion plays our young minds could invent, trying our best to hold onto the illusion that he was really a Ken doll and not a mangled, stub-foot surrogate.

This was the feeling I had walking around the sixth floor at MoMA yesterday. The viewer is made complicit in the illusion of it all; each photograph a cutting commentary on the nature of identity, representation, mass media culture, manipulation, male gazes, women, their faces and their bodies.  The exhibit made me  (or was it the image of me?) feel like we do this everyday. We all play pretend,  we try to project an illusion of some idealized image, when we really are a little mangled, a little disfigured, a little played upon by external forces and internal ones, too.

This feeling only doubled as I sat down to lunch downstairs at The Modern. In an eerie life-immitates-art moment it appeared as if the ultra-chic restaurant was completely populated by characters from the “Society Portraits” series. There was the botched lip injection Cindy to my right and the tired Upper East Side Cindy to my left. The Cindy next to her had drawn on her arched eyebrows a good inch too high…

Voilà, Cindy everywhere.

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