CUNY Macaulay Honors College at Baruch College/Professor Bernstein
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Art at MoMa: Ambiguous, Abstract and Atypical

I am usually a grumpy country girl. Every morning, I start my day with pouring complaints and sighs when I have to throw myself into a packed F train. One thing that I appreciate in my life of a city dweller is having an access to the cultural enrichment. Overflowing with museums, galleries and performance halls, New York City is all about the culture. Amongst all the powerhouses of inspiration, there is one place that I actually love the most. At the Museum of Modern Art, you are not allowed to perceive the paintings as they are. Instead, you find a thought, an insight, and inspiration of different artists. Before I entered MoMa, my eyes sparkled with curiosity. What would inspire me today? I always ask myself the same question, but each time MoMa provides me with a different answer. When I attentively and creatively examined the works from the exhibition “Abstract Expressionist New York,” three words came to my mind for deriving my own definition of Art: Ambiguous, Abstract, and Atypical.

<1951. Enamel paint on canvas, 7′ 7 7/8″ x 7′ 2″ (233.4 x 218.4 cm). Acquired through the Lillie P. Bliss Bequest and the Mr. and Mrs. David Rockefeller Fund. © 2010 Pollock-Krasner Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York>

Art is Ambiguous: Abstract art finds its values from ambiguity. Among the paintings, today’s exhibition could be summarized by “rediscovery of Jackson Pollock.” Jackson Pollock was an American painter who significantly influenced other abstract artists by developing the action painting method for the first time. This was just general information that I had about him. I knew about his style of spraying the paints all over the canvas creating undefined figures, but I couldn’t appreciate his artwork before. I secretly grumbled whenever I passed by his paintings, “Hey, I did the same thing when I was in 4th grade art class!”

Nonetheless, something has changed this time. I could not arrogantly walk away from his painting. The one that stroke me the most was “Echo: Number 25, 1951.” I never knew Pollock’s painting blobs had this deep sensation in them. As if I were seeing a vibrant herd of horses on some oriental painting, all the ambiguous figures were weaved together and emitted a powerful energy. From his painting, I was able to find the first, simple definition of art: it is a process of creating something from nothing.

<1941-44. Oil on canvas, 27 1/4 x 17 1/8″ (69.2 x 43.5 cm). Gift of Renate Ponsold Motherwell>

Art is Abstract: Abstractism prevents us from judging the values of the artwork. The one aspect that I really love about abstract art is that there is no right or wrong answer for your own interpretation of the work. Most of them do not even have a title. For the ones that actually have a title, I tend check the title at the last minute: by doing so, I can freely think and interpret the artwork through my own lens. When I was looking at Robert Motherwell’s “The Little Spanish Prison,” I didn’t look at the credit to check the title. Somehow, the painting’s yellow and white stripes with one accentuated pink vertical block on the bottom reminded me of a prison cell. After checking the title, I was very happy. It wasn’t simply because I made the correct guess; but, I was able to connect my thoughts with the artist and communicate with him through his painting.

<1950. Egg tempera and enamel on canvas, 8′ 1/8″ x 8′ 9 1/2″ (244.1 x 268 cm). The Sidney and Harriet Janis Collection. © 2010 Barnett Newman Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York>

Art is Atypical: If we see an artwork like Barnett Newman’s “The Voice,” we arrogantly say, “A 4 year-old can even do this!” Yes, his painting is nothing but a giant white canvas with one indefinite line on the side. And yes, maybe a 4-year-old can imitate his painting after staring at it for 5 seconds. However, here is the real difference. You might have thought of the same idea, but you’re not the one who created this art. You are not the one who executed the same idea to share with other people. It seems very easy to be an artist, but certainly not everyone can become one. Whether the painting is consisted of seemingly meaningless colors, shapes and lines, its value for is in being someone’s exclusive idea that wasn’t originally expressed. A typical artist follows what other people think. However, an atypical artist listens to his own voice and expresses what he thinks.

I personally consider having a definite and unique style as the most significant trait of an artist. In that perspective, Pollock’s natural and vibrant flows of enamel painting on the white canvas reveal his creativity and philosophy as an artist. I also admire his audacity of executing his ideas even though knowing that people are going to insensitively degrade his or her artistic values for its simplicity and easiness. As I was approaching the newly derived definition of art, I became terribly lost. In art, there is no right or wrong answer. Each one of us has a different voice from one another, and we all have different perspective through our own lenses. I was able to make different approaches for deriving the new definition of art by encountering new inspirations from the exhibition “Abstract expressionist New York.” There is no one definition that can solely stand for defining art. When my opinion and the artist’s intention finds an intersection, that is the moment that art meets its fullest value.

December 13, 2010   No Comments

Become a Sponge

(this post was in my drafts, I had never published it. oops!)

Since moving to the Lower East Side around three months ago, part of me has come to think of the area as my own. The mismatched graffiti, musty vintage clothing stores, and quaint cafes are a part of my everyday. I was wary, then, to hear someone else speak of the area as if it was theirs.

When Richard Price first stepped onto the podium and began speaking, I must admit that I judged him immediately. His yellow polo shirt and thick New York accent made me think he was a stereotypical rich Jewish New Yorker, the kind who thinks he or she knows lower Manhattan because they go to Chinatown to bargain for scarves, or transfer trains at Delancey and Essex without actually leaving the station.

I am pleased to say that I was wrong. Although Richard Price may dress the part of a yuppie, he certainly does not play it. He grew up in a housing project. He knows cops. He knows criminals. Richard Price is real. He cut to the chase with everything he said. He has strong opinions, and evidence to back them up. He knows what he is talking about. He knows the Lower East Side. His ability to observe is almost eerie. It is almost too good. He soaks up everything, every little detail, and is able to morph these tiny visions into words, both out loud and on paper, that truly capture an audience’s attention.

December 10, 2010   No Comments


Going to the ICP by myself was an interesting experience. I walked through the doors and was instantly confused; I hadn’t known anything of the sort existed. I had seen photography exhibits in famous museums but nothing like the ICP.

I walked around by myself, and said virtually nothing to those around me. I was able to take my time and not have to worry about keeping pace or getting back in time for club hours.

And so I dilly-dallied and took my time looking at the pictures. The two exhibitions, “The Mexican Suitcase” and the “Cuba in Revolution” were not in my favorite genre of photography, but they were impressive just the same. I have seen tons of war photography, but some in particular were fascinating.

My favorite exhibit was the “Cuba in Revolution.” It showed a people in a time of rebellion in the most unorthodox way. It showed celebration, and misery, and victory. It was dirty and extraordinary. It did not show vicious wounds, but those who were fighting for something and a sense of camaraderie in some.

The pictures showed every day people and the excitement in their eyes at the idea of changing something. The shocking part of the exhibit was seeing the iconic “Heroic Guerrilla” picture of Che Guevara that has become a pop culture image. I was used to seeing the polarized, cultured version of the famous rebel’s portrait, but got a chance to see the vintage print.

After checking out the exhibits, I learned that ICP offers photography classes (at a large price). They offer dozens of them, for beginners and experts. It seemed like something worth looking into. Maybe when Santa Claus comes to town, he’ll have ICP in mind.

December 9, 2010   No Comments

Close Up and Personal

The first photograph Sara Krulwich showed us was one of herself as a college student, standing on a football field with a huge camera in hand. In the background she is surrounded by the amused grins of the men in the marching band. Krulwich is on the football field of the University of Michigan, a place which at that time was forbidden to women and dogs. This moment marked the start of Krulwich’s struggle as a photographer. She is now one of the foremost photographers for the theatre section of the New York Times, but her struggle is not over. Photographing performances, such as Broadway and operas, seems like a relatively easy task however Sara is constantly fighting for the rights to photograph these shows. The producers want to convey a certain image with the pictures they release and are therefore very cautious about having anyone from outside their control photographing performances.

One thing Sara Krulwich constantly emphasized was the importance of getting close to one’s subject when photographing. She mentioned our street photography projects and how they could have been strengthened with the inclusion of close-ups on people. She also acknowledged that getting close is one of the major difficulties in being a photographer. I personally experienced this during my street photography project, as it felt extremely awkward to take pictures of people. I was afraid of angering them or simply looking like a creep. Sara Krulwich’s presentation made me realize that there is so much more to photography than just taking pictures and it gave me an even greater appreciation for this art form.

December 5, 2010   No Comments

Let a Smile be Your Umbrella

watch the digital collage here:

My mom always tells me to let a smile be my umbrella. I generally roll my eyes at the statement but in truth I can’t help but smile. Whether greeting a friend, acknowledging an acquaintance, catching the eye of a stranger or simply enjoying a song, photograph or film I need to grin. What is the downside? A smile is a peace sign, an expression of joy or humor and a salutation. It doesn’t matter whether you like a person or not, if you make eye contact, a smile is almost always better than any possible alternative.

I am not new to New York. My permanent residential address is in New Jersey but my grandparents lived in the city and my mom and dad grew up in Manhattan and Brooklyn respectively. I therefore have a habit of defending New York City- the people here aren’t that grumpy and self-involved, they’re just like everyone else, only faster paced. It’s not true though. New Yorkers seem to have come to embrace their hostile stereotype, and illustrate their contentment with the description by continuing to ignore, shove, death glare and cut off their neighbors and fellow city people.

I do it too. Pushing someone out of the way is faster than waiting your turn, and glaring at a person across from you on the subway is easier than striking up a conversation, but something is lost in these constant exchanges of hostilities- a sense of camaraderie and the smile that often comes with it.

New Yorkers don’t smile enough. I decided to play around with this idea in my collage. Smiles can cross any language barrier and therefore any culture, they shouldn’t be quite so rare. I focused on the people around me, snapping photographs of my friends smiling and frowning; often accompanied by a bright yellow smiley face sticker that either mirrored or contradicted their own expression. I also tried to incorporate audio elements by capturing video shots of some New York people explaining what they think about smiling. Answers varied, and were more often than not humorous (an unintended side effect of asking people about smiling is apparently a smile).

To accompany the visual elements I made the video’s audio backdrop a song called “Kids” by the band MGMT. It’s an upbeat song noting a happier time in most people’s lives where smiles probably came easier. At one points the lyrics read, “No time to think of consequences,” emphasizing my point- there is rarely a downside to smiling. Everyone knows it takes fewer muscles to smile than to frown so why not just do it?

I think my digital collage was relatively upbeat and I hope it generates a few upwardly curved lips. To do a project on smiling seems corny but it ought to serve as a reminder that smiling is safe and feels good. Not only does it feel good but also it can put those around you at ease. My mom says let a smile be your umbrella. There is nothing both easier and better to show the world.

November 23, 2010   1 Comment

Deck the Halls and Drink Some Glögg

I love the holiday season.  My friends joke that it’s my namesake (deck the halls…), but from Thanksgiving to Christmas, everything’s just more cheerful.  Perhaps its because of all the family gatherings—and the huge feasts that come with them.

Starting with Thanksgiving, is when the family comes to my house, and the food is prepared by lunch and we eat endlessly until the night, play games (mahjong and cards), watch television, and just catch up.  There’s always the turkey that starts defrosting since the night before, garlic clam pasta, garlic bread, some sort of fish, Stouffer’s stuffing, baked potatoes and yams, and a little bowl of gravy.  Then there’s the stuff I make: the mashed potatoes and baked goods (brownies, pumpkin pie, pecan pie).  And the cranberry sauce from the can that I used to like when it retained the can-shape.

But the greatest event is Christmas because it’s when everyone comes to New York City.  Thanksgiving is usually my grandma, relatives from Jersey, my second cousin’s family, and whoever happens to be in town.  Instead of Forest Hills (where my house is), we used to gather at my aunt’s loft at Greene Street.  This aunt used to fly in from Sweden with her husband and son, then there’s the uncle from New Jersey with his wife and three children, and the family from Australia.  Being the closest in proximity (a subway ride away), my family would always come early to help set up.  There would be vacuum packed fish from Sweden, along with loganberry jam made from scratch, nougat from Australia, and other foreign goodies.  The Jersey aunt would always make chocolate covered fruit and bring everyone gifts.  Meals would start off with appetizers and they alone made one full and usually included fried salt and pepper shrimp, shark fin soup, and other delicacies.  Then there’s always a break to relax before eating one’s own weight in food.  And there’s the drink that’s one of my favorite parts about the holidays: glögg, a sort of mulled wine with cloves and nutmeg.  Along with food is the endless number of family members I seem to have and meet, cousins, extended cousins, and then there’s the random professors that are lifelong friends of my grandmother.

Can be heated up and drunk as is or heated up with alcohol.

That loft is now regrettably gone (it was a rent-controlled studio bought out by a new landlord), as are some of the most loving family members.  There’s the new apartment at which to celebrate, and all the old gatherings are some of my fondest memories.  And the holidays don’t really end there: there’s New Year’s and Chinese New Year’s and then birthdays and more.  So in a way, its always the holiday season, and there’s always something to be grateful for.

November 23, 2010   1 Comment

Obladi, Oblada

Freshman year in college is an exciting time because you get to decide who you are. Everyone tells you that these are the years that you will “find yourself,” and it’s the chance to get a fresh start and shed your image from high school if it was unfavorable. Many people identify themselves by the clothes they wear, the people they hang out with, or their interests and hobbies. Psychology gives us Eyesnck’s personality assessment which claims that everyone fits somewhere on these two scales: introversion-extroversion, and stability-instability. Your rating on these two factors can tell a person about the nature of their personality and list many personality traits that are typical of that type. I classified myself as a stable introvert: which typically means calm, even-tempered, reliable, controlled, peaceful, thoughtful, careful, passive. I found these results pretty accurate.

This weekend, I found an entirely different way that people identify their personality types by: my dad calls it Beatle Psychology. The Beatles are relatable to any age group, but I didn’t realize how far our culture’s fascination with them went. Apparently everyone will identify more with one of the Beatles and who your favorite Beatle is says a lot about the type of personality you have. If you identify most with John, you’re “the smart one,” if its Paul, you’re “the cute one,” if you like Ringo the most, you’re “the funny one,” and if it’s George you’re “the shy one.” I can’t imagine this being even mildly accurate for most people, but to each his own. Which Beatle are you?

November 15, 2010   No Comments

Entwined with Concrete

Mother Nature Say Hello to New York

November 14, 2010   No Comments

Boisterous Bubbles

I swear, it had to be four degrees. My hands shook like a volcano, my nose as red as molten lava – but I didn’t care. I sat on the steps of Central Park on the cusp of a wide open space around the famous fountain. All types of people passed, or stayed, or skated, or ran by. What caught some of our attention on this brisk day (to say the least) was a man and his bucket.

Standing between me and the fountain was a man in his mid thirties, equipped with two sticks, some rope attached, and buckets of soap. He routinely dipped the sticks, which he held like wands, at arms length and dipped them into the buckets. As he lifted and separated the sticks, he brought with him the most entrancing things – bubbles. Huge bubbles. Bubbles bigger than you and I put together.

Watching the bubbles form and float seamlessly in the wind, only to pop and dissolve, was beautiful. The bitter air was no longer fearful as long as I watched those bubbles. They seemed to have every color of the rainbow trapped inside, swirling and twirling and molding into each other.

I wasn’t the only one who noticed. People started to gather to watch this man make his bubbles. He gently lifted his sticks, and almost genuflected to the wind as he gracefully swept his arms in his magical bubble-making motions. Children started running around, chasing these huge mystical things. They would scream, and giggle, and skip, and just enjoy. And they weren’t alone: passersby would be pleasantly surprised to turn around to find an abnormally sized bubble ready to pop in their faces.

Soon, the fountain started to become more crowded. Children joined in with extra sticks, dipping them in and trying for themselves. Parents watched, laughed, took pictures. Friends smiled and pointed, waiting for their turn. Dogs chased and barked at them. Skaters slid around them, and some unfortunate runners ran right into them.

It was just so funny to see something so mundane bring so much joy to so many different sets of people. For a moment, we were all together. All us fountain-goers shared something once-in-a-lifetime, and I think some of us knew it. The beauty of the bubbles (that’s right, just bubbles), brought together people that never would have even look at the other in the street. I shared smiles and knowing glances with grandmothers, preteen Justin Bieber wannabes and even toddlers.

For a moment there was no sorrow in the world. Just beauty. There was no war, or sadness, but just social togetherness. Maybe Obama should send some bubbles in to the Middle East, and not soldiers. The world might be a better place.

November 9, 2010   No Comments

Exploring the Cuban Revolution

The photos in International Center of Photography’s “Cuba in Revolution” exhibition were undeniably beautiful. They managed to capture several different aspects of the Cuban culture from before, during, and after the revolution. The photographs and their subjects were extremely diverse, ranging from funny to somber to celebratory. There was a photo of a grinning Cuban man wearing nothing but tight underwear and an oversized sombrero proudly holding up bottles of liquor, just inches away from a dark photo depicting two grim soldiers.

One especially striking part of the exhibit was the pictures of Che Guevara after his death. As I initially passed these photos I just glanced over them, assuming them to be uninteresting pictures of Guevara sleeping. However I was later drawn back to these photos by a friend who told me that they were pictures of Guevara’s corpse. These photos were perhaps even more disturbing than more graphic photos I have seen of deceased people because the expression on Che’s face was so peaceful. The photos were close-ups on his face and his eyes were open and bright, his mouth shaped into a slight smile. He did not look like a dead man.

Another photo that caught my attention was one called La Caballeria. It was one of the first photos you saw when you walked into the exhibition, depicting Cuban soldiers on horseback holding up revolutionary flags. This photo shows the intense passion of the soldiers and is an uplifting representation of the revolution. The contrast between light and dark in the photo is particularly noticeable. There is a white horse at the front of the group who contrasts sharply with the darker horses surrounding it. Its head is held high and its ears are alert and forward. The other horses seem small and weak by comparison. This white horse is a beacon of light, guiding the soldiers and their horses down the road to independence.

The last photo I saw as I left the exhibition was one of a young man and woman embracing. This photo contrasted with the images of Che Guevara’s corpse that I had just seen. This picture was very positive and hopeful. It hinted at a bright future for Cuba and its youth.

November 9, 2010   No Comments