(CATS IN BAG BAGS IN RIVER [Christopher Wool, 1990])
I ran through The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York this March. Well, I didn’t literally run, but I hustled enough to get more than one odd glance from the “we reserved all day for this” crowd that was enjoying the space that day.
Two things occur to me as I reflect on my time there:
1. When things get moving quickly (life, relationships, museum visits), it take a LOT to grab one’s attention, to get one to stop and consider.
2. The obvious, familiar, and easily understood are usually not enough to slow us down.
Since I had a limited time window to see the museum, I raced through and stopped only occasionally. I would linger in front of a Picasso or Van Gogh. The pieces, however, that stopped me all had two important factors. They were wildly unique and not immediately understood.
The full-size helicopter on one floor (which reminded me of the original BatCopter) made me really stop and wonder. What made it “art” and what was the message that the artist was trying to convey? It took careful consideration of the other pieces and a good deal of filling in the blanks before I came to see it the way (I assumed) the artist hoped I would.
Nothing profound about that process, but it was an incredible exercise in mental discipline to consider rather than consume.
The piece above (Cats in Bag) really grabbed me. The stark black on white and the huge letters were an obvious attention-getter. But what did it mean?
We know what it means to let the cat out of the bag, as when the Seinfeld gang first learned Kramer’s real name - http://youtu.be/yd2Y_wuV4jk?t=4m35s. What does it mean to put the cat in the bag? Doesn’t it mean the job is done? And if the bag is in the river then it’s like REALLY done? Right? Or not?
Apparently, the line comes from a 1957 movie called “The Sweet Smell of Success”. Ok, does that help me?
I am still thinking about this painting, as simple and silly as it may be. I find myself trying to insert the line into various parts of life and wondering if I might ever really understand what the point is…or if I even care.
Maybe I just like having some mystery around in this Google-saturated world where all of the answers are one click away. Maybe I appreciate the whimsical a bit more now that life has gone into the buckled-down phase of babies and taxes and mortgages.
Maybe I learned a bit more about what it takes to get noticed in this world, where everything is moving at light-speed and everything is aimed at the lowest-common-denominator. Maybe a little bit of mystery is still a very good thing.