Date Night, Get it Right: MoMA PS1’s “Greater New York”


Good dates start with good conversation. That’s why it’s always better to see a film before going to dinner, to discuss the plot and the actors and the cinematography instead of staring at a menu or fumbling for words. If you want a little activity to go with your dialogue, take a stroll through MoMA PS1’s “Greater New York” exhibition, which takes over all three floors of the former schoolhouse in Long Island City. You’ll be out of breath before you run out of things to talk about.

“Greater New York,” which takes place every five years and is on view through March, is an exhibition showcasing local art. It started in 2000 and traditionally embraced younger, emerging artists, but this iteration takes a broader approach. Co-organized by a multi-generational team—Peter Eleey (Curator and Associate Director of Exhibitions and Programs, MoMA PS1) Douglas Crimp (an art historian), Thomas J. Lax (Associate Curator, Department of Media and Performance Art, MoMA), and Mia Locks (Assistant Curator, MoMA PS1)—the show includes work by older, established, and even dead, artists.

Greater New York, 10-13-2015 – Pablo Enriquez for MoMA PS1


More than 150 artists are represented and there are more than 400 works to consider. If you know the art world, go and have fun. But don’t be daunted even if you don’t. I recently toured the exhibition with Matthew Israel, Curator at Large at Artsy, the website for both learning about and collecting art, and he gave me some talking points, which is useful because this is not the sort of show that includes much wall text or curatorial guidance. “I think it’s nice,” Israel said about the lack of explanatory text, “but also a bit irresponsible. I personally think exhibitions should be more didactic and teach people, but this is very hard to do and this type of show is probably not the best place to do it.” At “Greater New York,” you are kind of on your own, which makes viewing it like experiencing a good romance—self-directed and amorphous.

On the first floor, near the entrance, a large gallery is lined with black-and-white photographs of gay men relaxing, cruising, and doing more on the derelict piers of Manhattan’s West Side, taken some forty years ago by Alvin Baltrop (1948-2004). “These romanticize the unseen New York,” Israel said, adding that he thought the pictures hovered between being artworks and documentary photography. That’s something to discuss as you wander about!

“People are saying,” he added as we moved on, that the show is a part of a “return to figuration.” This means that throughout the show, images of the human figure abound. A vast room on the second floor is full of human bodies. In the middle of it, you’ll find Mary Beth Edelson’s sculpture of a half-naked many-armed woman in stockings and a garter belt adorned with gleaming chef knives. It’s a reference to Lorena Bobbitt, the Virginia housewife who severed her then-husband’s penis, and the waving arms call to mind the powerful Hindu goddess Kali. Talk amongst yourselves.

Off in another part of that space are two fully naked figures, one male, one female, by the artist Tony Matelli. They just happen to be perched on their heads, putting their anatomically correct features in easy view. If you don’t want to consider what’s in front of your eyes, you can bring up the controversy the artist stirred a year ago at Wellesley, the women’s college in Massachusetts, where students petitioned for the removal of his life-size figure of an underwear-clad sleepwalking man that had been placed in the middle of the campus.


Israel, for his part, was glad to see a tan figure composed entirely of cast wax, by the Swiss Artist Ugo Rondinone. “He explores so many types of media,” Israel said of Rondinone, “but I find his figurative works—which come in a variety of styles—to be consistently the most impressive.” Off to the side of this is a piece by Elizabeth Jaeger, “Maybe We Die so The Love Doesn’t Have To,” which consists of two naked but discreetly entangled male and and female figures, bent over together in a curious manner. According to the museum’s description on the wall, the artist makes “works that playfully explore the dynamics of intimacy.” If your date goes well, that might be something you can delve deeper into later on—in private.

In the meantime, if conversation between you and your partner is flagging, step over to the Kiosk Archive, a room of odd and interesting objects on clear plastic shelves. It’s a bit of a maze in there, and if you run out of things to discuss, whip out your phone and dial the number given by the handout at the door. Each object is tagged with a number and a recording will describe it for you. The items were collected by the husband and wife team of Alisa Grifo and Marco ter Haar Romeney on their travels around the world over the past ten years. “The garage-sale aesthetic, or installations including collections of objects,” Israel observed, “is a serious trend.”

On the third and top floor of the museum, a gallery nearly as big as a basketball court holds two photographs by Louise Lawler, who is known for her depictions of art works on display. Each picture—one of works at The Art Institute of Chicago and the other of works at the Museum of Modern Art—has been stretched out for this show. Spanning the sweeping space, the prints almost become abstractions. It’s calm and peaceful there, looking at art that’s looking at art.

Greater New York, 10-13-2015 – Pablo Enriquez for MoMA PS1


Around the corner, a small room holds Mira Dancy’s wall painting of women and her neon-depiction of the female form. The works are joyful and vivacious, certainly qualities desirable in a date. As art—and dating, for that matter—goes, the works are a bit more complicated than they appear. “These figurative paintings look like they are dashed off,” Israel said, “which is certainly not the case.” Just past the room with Dancy’s work, a video by Charles Atlas, provides plenty more to mull over. It features a floor-to-ceiling image of the drag queen Lady Bunny in a foot-high platinum blond wig and a series of sequined dresses, discussing everything from politics to sex change operations.

If that sends you scurrying back down the three flights of the museum, there are a few fun things you might have overlooked, including, perhaps, the small photograph of Gordon Matta-Clark’s “Doors Through and Through (documentation of Doors, Floors, Doors),” from 1976. It’s part of a series of capturing the holes Matta-Clark cut in PS1’s floors (since covered up) that were part of the space’s inaugural exhibition. The photos are placed exactly where the cuts originally existed. There are two others on lower floors. See if you can find them on your way out.

And if all this walking and viewing has made you hungry, the esteemed M. Wells Dinette, on the museum’s first floor, serves an ever-changing menu of dishes. On a recent visit the risotto was looking very tasty. It’s a good place to finish any conversations you may have started.