March 4, 2008

Coloring in the Lines: Color Chart at MoMA

After visiting Design and the Elastic Mind at MoMA last week, I wandered into Color Chart: Reinventing Color, 1950 to Today in the nearby galleries on the sixth floor. The exhibit features 44 contemporary artists who've explored the possibilities of color as a readily-available commercial product. The earliest work, Marcel Duchamp's painting, Tu m' from 1918, presents a cascading spray of color samples and establishes the thesis sentence for the exhibit.

Artists include Robert Rauschenberg, riffing on Duchamp and using paint right out of the can, Dan Flavin, the master of the florescent tube, and Sherrie Levine, borrowing LeCorbusier's palette in the same way she borrows everything. After seeing Jasper Johns: Gray at the Met, I found it humorous to come across a series of his numbers in living color. Curating an exhibit is so much about presenting an argument, I thought, that a clever curator could offer us an exhibit in the future titled "Jasper Johns: Green, Blue, Red, and Yellow."

Color Chart does make the distinction between academic traditions of the aesthetic use of color and the contemporary pop love of the readymade, although I think the word "reinventing" is too strong. The artists presented here often randomly play with the selection of colors available to them, as opposed to the artists who've pulled out the color wheel to make choices in the service of other motives. As a modern art phenomenon, color becomes the subject itself, often a dialogue with colors that are found, whether on an Italian sports car (Alighiero Boetti's Rosso Gilera, Rosso Guzzi, 1971) or landscapes in London (David Batchelor's Found Monochromes of London 1997-2003).

I enjoyed seeing Andy Warhol's Do It Yourself series from 1962, his send-up of the popular painting-by-numbers hobby, Richard Serra's film Color Aid, 1970-71, a presentation of Joseph Albers' 220 sheets of color, and Byron Kim's Synecdoche, a color chart based on skin tones.

The concurrent Design and the Elastic Mind and Color Chart provide ample reason to visit the sixth floor of MoMA. See Design first, as it's intellectually the most challenging. On a whole different level, I recommend Color Chart as a way of dealing therapeutically with typical color anxieties, such as what color to paint the living room. Which reminds me - the exhibit is supported by Benjamin Moore Paints.

Color Chart: Reinventing Color, 1950 to Today through May 12, 2008. Museum of Modern Art. Online site.

Related entertainment: A DIY website to turn your digital photos into painting by numbers - PhotoDoodle.

Image: Peppers for sale, market at SE corner of Broadway and Houston, New York, New York. Walking Off the Big Apple. March 3, 2008.

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