We scored a free museum pass from Malka’s school, so I went to MOMA twice last week. (Check it, I can get into ANY MUSEUM for free this year with a guest, so you need to go to some of this shit with me!)
I spent 2:10 to 3:10 with Christian Marclay’s “Clock.” When I walked in Mathew Broderick was passing out a test in Election. I saw Agent Cooper spread out the fragments of Laura Palmer’s diary and Christian Bale’s woeful, lovely face while he waits for the train in the remake of 310 to Yuma. John Travolta waiting for a bomb to detonate. Robert Di Nero on a war ship. Nicholas Cage, hungover in the afternoon and hanging up on Sam Rockwell in Leaving Las Vegas. A woman writing in a notebook, “Time is eliminated.” And lots of scenes I didn’t recognize. I can’t hope to explain the pleasure of watching “The Clock.” There were two five-year-old boys in front of me, who kept asking their exasperated mothers, “What time is it?” Finally, one of the moms said, “Look at the screen.” Something about this exchange made the rest of us laugh. It’s hard to learn how to tell time, and then once we know how to do it, it’s inscribed everywhere or at least in our movies and stories. The room was big and dark, there were about 40 big couches. You sit with strangers, you wait for the next clip, and you watch. There’s a lot of collective anticipation, giggling, gasps of recogition, and pockets of spacing out. More than anything, I love the way “The Clock” helps you understand that narrative and story are always about the minutes and the movement of your own ticking, beating heart bomb.
I went back on the last day of “The Clock,” but it was 3:45 and the line was 100 people deep and the installation was closing at 5:30. The guard told me to give up, but I couldn’t accept it. I waited in line for a half hour before wandering off into the rest of the museum. I saw Polish sculptor Alina Szapocznikow’s uncanny wax lips, breasts, and phallus pieces. I couldn’t quite take her work, but I had that queasy feeling that made me think I’ll have to go back. I watched Eiko and Koma slowly crawl their bandaged, plastered bodies out of the trailer in The Caravan Project. The installation reminded me of caves, beehives, and mummies–their movements in and out of the open trailer are hypnotic and a little scary. Eventually, Eiko made it out of the side of the trailer (a kind of slow-mo stumble tumble), and the woman next to me said to her friend, “Eh, there she goes. She’s out.”
Up on the fifth floor, I stumbled upon Warhol’s soup cans, which I have always loved. I like to check in on them so that I can see if I have a new favorite. The art critic Dave Hickey taught me do to this with Warhol’s mutliples. Hickey says–in his smoked laced cameo in the excellent BBC documentary about Warhol–that Warhol understood better than any American artist that we all have our “flavors” and we all get too choose. Which Marilyn do you love? I’m partial to Gold Marilyn myself. Warhol gets us and our consuming desires. Today, I pick cheddar cheese soup. The label says, “New” and “Great as a Sauce, Too!” I imagine diping nachos into it, using it as a layer in my mother’s heart-burn inducing taco casserole, or pouring it over broccoli. I wonder how the soup cans seem to people who have never eaten Campbell’s soup? I stare at the cans, grateful that MOMA keeps them up permanently, and I’m reminded of Malka’s favorite advertisement. We used see it on our walk to school. It was (they recently took it down) a giant mural of sparkly silver letters on Houston between Broadway and Mercer. It read “Live Your Life,” and it was for American Eagle Outfitters. Of course, it will surprise none of you that I don’t really agree with this sentiment (you know Carpe Diem and all that bullshit) and they are just selling clothes, but the letters were huge and they gleamed in the morning sunlight like a giant street-wide disco ball. Malka loved them! I started to love them! Each day we picked a favorite letter! And then they took them down and replaced them with photographs of fourteen year old girls in bras and Malka and I had to have our first conversation about the difference between advertising and art.
I try to explain what an advertisement is: “It’s temporary. You know to sell things.” I suck at this. She looks up at me from the bonnet of her stroller and squints. “I want the letters back. They’re pretty.” I nod. I totally get it. They were the most beautiful thing I’ve seen on Houston in years, except for maybe one of the naked Calvin Klein billboard models. “Sometimes pretty things are temporary,” I manage. Argh!!! It’s getting worse. She ignores me. “Maybe they’ll come back.” We both know this is a lie, and we say nothing and walk the rest of the way home. Seeing the soup cans again reminds me that the sparkly letters were art and not an advertisement. Warhol would have understood this. Malka gets it. It takes me longer. Too much thinking I guess.
The sparkly letters were a shimmering portal into something else–glimmer and sheen, the alphabet, the sun, the street–an antidote to the school Malka doesn’t like very much, a conversation about a favorite letter. “Today, I like the R.” “Mama, do you want the O?”