Jill Krementz Photo Journal covers the opening of the “new” MoMA

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What a thrill it was to meet one of my favorite living artists — Betye Saar — at MoMA. The 93-year-old artist from Los Angeles has a solo show, "The Legends of Black Girls Window," on the second floor.
There’s so much to see, but Ms. Saar's is my number one exhibition on view in the newly renovated museum.

The new expanded MoMA has opened its doors to the public after a four-month renovation and a $450 million overhaul. The additional 47,000 square feet will help the curators install many more works from their permanent collection.

In the last two weeks leading up to the official opening there were various events for donors, artists, press, and members.

I haven’t yet figured out to navigate this shrine of modern art but the good thing is that as I wandered I somehow managed to find three new solo exhibitions as well as many favorite masterpieces on the walls, on the floor, and hanging from the ceiling.  

What I loved best was Betye Saar’s  “The Legends of Black Girl’s Window.”  I have loved her work and her sensibility for so long and, in fact, she was the only name left on my wish list of someone I’d still love to photograph. Wishes can come true.


I photographed Betye Saar with Anticipation (1961) — a self portrait, as well as with the black and white mural showing the artist in her studio (1970) displayed at the exhibition’s entrance.
During the 1960s, Saar’s three daughters — Lezley, Alison, and Tracye — were simultaneously her full-time job and her models and muses. Girl Children depicts them together, with the oldest in strict profile and the middle child peeking out from behind the baby, who is front and center.
Seen here with Girl Children are two of her three daughters — Lezley (left) and Tracye (right). Alison, the youngest, had recently departed. All three daughters, unsurprisingly, are artists.
The Legends of Black Girl’s Window is drawn almost entirely from the Museum’s collection and highlights the recent acquisition of 42 works on paper that provide an overview of Saar’s sophisticated, experimental print practice.
Left: Black Girl’s Window, 1969
“Even at the time, I knew it was autobiographical,” Saar said of her now-iconic assemblage Black Girl’s Window. The black girl of the title, with her winking blue eyes cut from novelty glasses, occupies the work’s large central panel.
Right: Black Crows in the White Section Only, 1972
Saar’s exploration of the the harsh realities facing African Americans in the United States during the 1960s and ’70s. “The anger just built and built and built … I had three kids, so I couldn’t march … But I could make art.”
The Mystic Window #1, 1965
The Phrenologer’s Window II, 1966
Wooden window frame with cut-and-pasted printed paper, acrylic paint and found objects on board.
Saar’s personal collection of found objects includes items that continue to inspire her, like the plaster phrenology model marked with the areas of the brain purportedly tied to certain emotions and faculties.
The Palmist Window, 1967
Wooden window frame with cut-and-pasted printed paper and fabric with charcoal and acrylic paint
There are basically three solo exhibitions presented for the first time. One, as I’ve just mentioned, is Betye Saar’s. The second is devoted to Pope.L, a 64-year-old performance artist famous for crawling on his belly through the streets of Greenwich Village as seen here in this video still.
Pope.L often did his belly crawls dressed as superman in an orange hat and with a skateboard.
The third solo show “Sur moderno: Journeys of Abstraction” honors the work of 90 Latin American artists donated by Patricia Phelps de Cisneros.
Gary Garrels, senior curator at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, is standing beside Relevo neoconcreto (Neoconcrete Relief), Oil on wood, 1960 by the late Hélio Oiticica, arguably the most influential Brazilian artist of the post-World War II period.
Mr. Garrels has every reason to look happy: “Patty donated it in my name to MoMA,” he told me. You too can read the ‘designated donation’ as it’s included on the adjacent wall label.
John Prochillo is the manager of Drawings, Prints and Illustrated Books at MoMA where he has worked for 16 years.
“Gary Garrels was Chief Curator of Drawings (back in the pre-2013 days when Drawings was its own department). He hired me to manage that Department, which I did for 10 years.   Then in 2013 we combined Drawings with Prints and Illustrated Books, and I have been managing that larger Department since then. It is the largest curatorial Department at MoMA — 75,000 works.”
Curator Jodi Hauptman with The Swimming Pool by Henri Matisse. Hauptman organized MoMA’s first exhibition of the cut outs in 2014.
As Jodi tells it — “The story about the making of the Pool is that Matisse and Lydia, his assistant and muse go to a pool. And they get there and it’s boiling hot.
“And Matisse says, ‘I’m going to die here. We have to go home.’ And so he goes home and he says, ‘I’m going to make my own pool.’
“And so he asks Lydia to line his dining room with white paper hanging at a height of approximately just above his head.
“And then he begins to cut the forms and make this pool.”
Hito Steyerl’s Liquidity Inc. (2014) is one of the 11 installation pieces in “Surround” on the 6th floor.
Jeff Koons is front and center of this mix & match installation. On the left: Scott Burton’s Perforated Metal Chairs. On the wall: Keith Haring’s Untitled, 1985; ink drawing on two sheets.
Lee Rosenbaum with Frank Stella’s Grey Scrambled Double Square.
In 1970, MoMA presented the first retrospective of the young abstract artist then just 33 years old, Stella was — and still is — the youngest artist ever to have had a retrospective at the Museum.
Handles by Haegue Yang (Korean, b. 1971)
Ms. Yang’s installation commissioned for MoMA’s Marron Atrium features six sculptures activated daily, dazzling geometries, and the play of light and sound, to create a ritualized, complex environment with both personal and political resonance.
Lloyd Wise is a Senior Editor and writer at Artforum.
Mounted on casters and covered in skins of bells, Yang’s sculptures generate a subtle rattling sound when maneuvered by performers, and recall the use of bells in shamanistic rites, among other sources. The natural ambient noise of birdsong, which also permeates the space, was in fact recorded at a tense political moment in the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea during the historic summit in 2018.
An Alexander Calder — Lobster Trap and Fish Tail — hanging from the ceiling in one of the museum’s many nooks.
The Albino (aka All That Rises Must Converge/Black), 1972, by Barbara Chase-Riboud.
In addition to being a sculptor, the 80-year-old artist is a bestselling novelist (Sally Hemmings) and poet.
Installation by Sheila Hicks, a leading fabric artist. The 14-piece Pillar of Inquiry/Supple Column is suspended from the ceiling.
Some of the art was “performance” of the best kind.
Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Glenn, 1985
I wanted to visit the brand new David Geffen wing on the 2nd, 4th and 5th floors — wherever “North” is.
I had returned to the lobby to get my bearings and was happy to bump into my friends Kendall Werts and his partner, Carl Swanson, Editor at Large for New York Magazine. They were among the myriad invitees at one of the special evening openings — this one honoring the artists.
Harlem-born artist Faith Ringgold, 89, has been a friend of mine for many years. I love her work and have framed many of her posters.
Taking inspiration from artist Jacob Lawrence and writer James Baldwin, Ringgold began her first political work titled the  the “American People Series” in 1963. It portrays the American lifestyle in relation to the Civil Rights Movement and illustrates these racial interactions from a woman’s point of view.
Die from “American People Series No. 20,” painted in 1967
There was a lot of spontaneous rioting and fighting in the street and undocumented killings of African-American people, and great racism. It was amazing what was happening. Everybody knew. Everybody talked about it, but I would never see anything about it on television — nothing.
I became fascinated with the ability of art to document the time, place, and cultural identity of the artist. How could I, as an African-American woman artist, document what was happening all around me? I wanted to show a kind of abstraction of what the fights were really all about. And they had a lot to do with race and class, and no one was left out.
Deborah Solomon, art critic (who is working on an authorized bio of Jasper Johns) with her son Eli who is in medical school. Deborah’s article about the “new” MoMA appeared in the 10/13/19 culture issue of The New York Times Magazine.
On the wall is Paul Cézanne’s The Bather, 1885-87.
Chuck Martin is a writer, filmmaker, and photographer whose work has been exhibited at SoHo’s June Kelly Gallery. Mr. Martin, also a professor of literature at Queens College, studied many years ago with Bill Zinsser, revered by us both.
Anna Deveare Smith with Paul Cézanne’s Boy in a Red Vest, 1888-90.
Smith’s one woman play “Fires in the Mirror” is currently reprising at The Signature Theater; October 22 – December 8, 2019.
Collecter Carl Gerber has donated much of his art collection to the Allen Memorial Art Museum at Oberlin College. With him is Andria Derstine, the museum’s newly appointed Director. They had flown in from Ohio for the opening honoring MoMA’s artists.
Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night, 1889, which was acquired by the museum in 1941, can be found in the first gallery on the fifth floor.
Constantin Brancusi carved his work from marble, limestone, and various woods , sometimes casting the results in bronze.
A gallery is devoted almost entirely to Matisse paintings and head sculptures. Here you see “Dance,” a fresco-sized circle of five women dancing with joy.
The Jeannette Series (1910-13)  depicts one woman, Jeanne Vaderin, metamorphosing through Matisse’s modernist style, increasingly abstract and farther from her ‘real likeness’.
An additional installation view of the Matisse gallery.
I love MoMA’s vast collection of surrealism including Salvador Dali’s Retrospective Bust of a Woman, 1933.
Joseph Cornell, “Bébé Marie,” 1940
A self portrait by Frida Kahlo and its companion piece on the right, which is a framed mirror.
Left: Frida Kahlo, Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair, 1940, which Kahlo painted  in the wake of her divorce  from her famous husband, Mexican Muralist painter Diego Rivera. He had always admired her long, dark hair, which, as she indicates in the tresses littering the painting, she had cut off after their split.
Right: Diego Rivera, Flower Festival: Feast of Santa Anita, 1931
Left: An inspired installation: René Magritte, The False Mirror, 1929 hangs above Alberto Giacometti, Hands Holding the Void (Invisible Object), 1934 (cast c. 1954-55).
Right: Marisol (Marisol Escobar), Diptych, 1971, Lithograph
Betye Saar at the end of the evening — down in the lobby with Lezley to retrieve their coats and grab a snack before heading off to their hotel.
Betye Saar departs. And so then did I having had my own starry night.

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