Art + Movement at MOCA

“Primeval Resurgence” by Lee Krasner

Dancers from the Colburn School sweep their lithe limbs into the air

“What do you see?” asks Amanda, our guide at MOCA.  This is my kind of art tour, I think.  Simple and direct, a quick way to appreciate art, based just on what I see.

“Heart shapes,” says a girl in a canary yellow sweater and sparkly silver shoes who is maybe six years old.

“Your eye is guided in different directions,” says her mother.

“Describe the movement,” Amanda probes the group.

The responses are varied: curves and loops, fluid motions, spirals, and “jumping movements.”

Amanda points out the repetition of certain brush strokes, as well as percussive moments and syncopation.

Suddenly, we’re using the language of music and dance to describe static blobs of paint.  The theme of our tour, and of MOCA’s “Sunday Studio” event, is “Seeing Art, Making Art, Dancing Art,” and aims to explore the “creative junctions where movement and visual art meet,” as MOCA’s website puts it.  As a classically trained ballet dancer, the theme appeals to me.

Now, as I study Lee Krasner’s “Primeval Resurgence,” the relation between the piece and dance is apparent.  There are no people in the painting, but I can almost see someone jumping, spinning, and leaping to a rhythm that is quick and varied, maybe jazz music.   As my tour group leaves, I see that Krasner’s artist statement reads: “I never violate an inner rhythm.”

Upstairs, on the MOCA plaza, we are greeted by the director of Colburn’s dance school, Leslie Carothers-Aromaa.  (The Colburn is an arts conservatory just adjacent to MOCA, and the two organizations often collaborate on programming.) She mentions a shared vocabulary and visceral connection as two ways that art and dance meld together.  For the youngsters in the audience, which is nearly everyone, she explains that visceral means, “how it makes you feel.”  For Carothers-Aromaa, the connection between art and dance is important.  “Art informs movement, and movement informs art,” she says, and picks up a print of the Lee Krasner painting.  “Even though nothing’s moving, it’s just paint on canvas, and yet…there’s a sense of motion.”

Behind her, a stage is set up in the shadow of Nancy Rubins’ “Airplane Parts” sculpture.  Foam panels serve as the backdrop, and atop each rests a sign with a word: color, rhythm, texture, form, line, visceral, negative space, motion and composition.  Carothers-Aromaa tells the audience to think about those words as they watch a short performance by dancers from the Colburn school.

But…  that won’t be for another 15 minutes.  So I partake in my all-time favorite museum experience – visiting the gift shop.  The MOCA gift shop in particular offers a great selection.  I notice that it sells every possible way to carry Andy Warhol through your life – on a bag, T-shirt, bumper sticker, gift card, luggage tag, mug, jewelry….it goes on and on.  Murakami is another artist who has inspired collectibles, such as plush toys ($50!), stickers, folders, and magnets.  (I’m an avid Murakami fan; his stickers adorn my computer, and three framed Murakami postcards hang in my kitchen.  They’re cheaper than the $900 print the store sells, right?) Then there’s the Mondrian glass boxes – stunning.  And the postcards with images of Nick Cave’s dance suits.  (Which I saw in person at an exhibit at the Fowler a while back.)  Books from exhibitions – I ruffle through the pages for the Suprasensorial exhibition I saw last week with my class – as well as mock soap opera booklets from the James Franco / General Hospital event MOCA hosted in July.  For me, gift shops offer another way of viewing art.

When I go back outside, two Colburn students are performing a piece with modern, neo-classical movements.  The dance is full of variations in height and space, more geometrical than fluid.  The dancers – two lithe, teen girls – move nimbly and quickly.  To my delight, they perform it not once but three times, allowing the audience to contemplate the movements.  Then, it’s time for the kiddies to work on art projects.  I head back downstairs to MOCA’s permanent collection, tagging along with another group that is headed toward Jackson Pollack’s work titled, “Nov. 1, 1949.”

Number 1, 1949 by Jackson Pollock

Colburn dancers look as if they’re pressing against an invisible wall

The museum guide – not Amanda this time, but a guy whose name I didn’t catch – takes care to ask for group observations and opinions before divulging his own.  First, he asks simply, “What do you see?”  The paint creates streaks of yellow, white, black, turquoise and pink across the canvas.  No single line stands out from the rest.  As one observer puts it, “There’s nothing dictating what you should look at, so as a viewer you’re freer because of the consistency.”  Another points out that the painting’s sense of sculptural depth comes from the layers of color rather than a form or shape.  A third speaks of the orbiting, circular feeling she feels that the painting evokes.  Other, more soft-spoken members of the group raise their voices when the guide asks, “If this were music, what would it be?”  Various ideas get thrown out before a consensus is reached: jazz, with all its improvisation and rich color in tone.  I wonder if Stranvinsky might also be an apt comparison, but then change my mind.  His rhythms are too strange and complex, with every bar switching from one crazy time signature to another.  In contrast, Pollack’s work is so smooth and regular.  Still, every stroke looks as if it’s imbued with energy.  I suddenly conjure up the image of Pollock mustering all his might to splatter paint on the canvas – as fiercely as a ballerina whipping out fouette turns.

Jackson Pollock whips paint onto the canvas

A ballerina whips out fouette turns in Don Quixote


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