There is a line-up to get in – only about ten minutes, but there’s no blockbuster show that draws these folks in, just the star-power of this great museum. Once inside, even the children have a lot of fun. People try to find the coins and nails in Jackson Pollock’s “Full Fathom Five”:
Or get their photos taken in front of his paintings
Even in front of Barnett Newman’s vacuous Vir Heroicus Sublimis. (Newman spent much of his life celebrating Jamaican beer.)
Abstract expressionism is a lot of fun and very instructive, but I was unprepared for the joyous inclusion of these art-works in the touristic experiences of these throngs. (Lots of Europeans, by the way. Which makes sense: a French family visiting New York would prefer Rothko to Renoir over at the Metropolitan.) Picasso is a celebrity – as recently as in my father’s generation, all but the pseuds found him baffling and inaccessible. At MoMA, however, hundreds ogle the difficult cubism of Woman with a Guitar and the monumental geometry of Les Demoiselles d’Avignon and their curiosity spills over to Gris and Braque.
Andy Warhol’s Gold Marilyn Monroe is to MoMA what the Mona Lisa is to the Louvre. The most glamorous woman of the 20th century memorialized by the most famous artist -- never mind that this picture was, along with that of an electric chair, part of a series that commemorates famous and untimely deaths. An endless stream of people is photographed in front of it – with families, it’s always the father, it seems.
But there are also young women, hoping that some of that stardust will fall on to a picture that includes them.
There’s nothing like this at the almost equally crowded Metropolitan Museum, where children whine while their parents snatch a few harried moments in front of Manet or Cezanne and solemn teenagers tour with grandparents, diarizing in notebooks about the Old Masters. The Cezannes there are hardly noticed; here, they are gobbled up with all the other goodies.