Scattered Things in MoMA’s Atrium: Song Dong and Martin Kippenberger

I was looking for Performance 4: Roman Ondak, above, which MoMA tucked away on the 2nd floor without telling any of the staff, but instead was struck by another opening. Beijing-based Conceptual artist Song Dong has taken over the atrium of MoMA with a sprawl of things. Things is the best word I have for the old furniture, shopping bags, stuffed animals, plastic containers, etc. that cover most of the floor.

(Note: I’ve always held a steely reserve against conceptual art; for an artist to focus on the idea behind the work above the physical form it takes strips away the very essence of the visual arts. It’s like visual philosophy that downplays the visual…but I digress…)

I was talking about Song Dong at MoMA. So my first thought on seeing the new atrium?

Martin Kippenberger.

See what I mean?

Song Dong’s objects, above left, are smaller and more plentiful, but you can see the same line of chairs and carefully ordered lines of ready made furniture in both her piece and Kippenberger’s piece, above right. Both look like they had fallen out of an especially providential hurricane–the human hand and organizing principle behind them are removed enough to render them obtuse if you don’t know the story behind them. (In Kippenberger’s case, perhaps even if you do.)

Except while Kippenberger’s amalgamation left me coldly bemused, I found this ragtag assortment of anything and everything old and worn rather moving. Even poetic in its row upon row shoes. It reminded me of New York City streets. Kippenberger’s The Happy End of Franz Kafka’s ‘Amerika’ seems shiny and calculated in comparison.

And that was my thought process before I read the story behind Song Dong’s work. The objects are actually the contents of her mother’s house. After the death of Song Dong’s father, her mother took her habit of not wasting anything to extremes. This exhibition was a way of letting go, both of the items and their grief. Fueled by this knowledge, the objects become more emotionally loaded the more you look at them and register the number of useless items. Knowing the story certainly changes the way you view the piece, but what impresses me most is how much was communicated by simply looking at the piece before I knew any background.

So perhaps Conceptual art can have visual integrity and I’ll have to revise my opinion. Perhaps. If you have the chance to see it, I’d love to know what your reaction was.


2 thoughts on “Scattered Things in MoMA’s Atrium: Song Dong and Martin Kippenberger

  1. For me the appeal of conceptual art is the broadening of my thought about the process of art but without a compelling visual context I may not spend enough time for that thought to occur.

Leave a Reply