The Grand Finale: Visiting Artist Derek Fordjour and the Redesigned MoMa

The Grand Finale: Visiting Artist Derek Fordjour and the Redesigned MoMa

A beautiful picture of Art Semester’s last hurrah.

Of all the ways to end an eventful semester like the one we have shared, I am grateful that this week’s trip proceeded in the way it did. Our talk with artist Derek Fordjour was one of the most enjoyable that I have had during New York Semester. Fordjour was very amicable, greeting us with a big smile and an approachable, joking demeanor. He told us that taking a class like ours was one of the best opportunities of our lives, something that validated and relieved us all simultaneously. He had a lot to say regarding the business side of art, and how it is not knowledge prioritized in art school. He also took a non-formal perspective when talking to us about being an artist, stressing the importance of teaching yourself and gaining experience through working at all levels of the art business.

Derek Fordjour speaking with us in his permanent studio (under renovation).

He showed us both his temporary studio space and his permanent one that is still under renovation, and discussed with us the importance of having a space that meets your needs as both a person and an artist. He also walked us through his art-making process, showing us hands-on how he created his layered works. Fordjour’s work is some of my most favorite from that of the artists we have visited. It reminds me a bit of Futurism, which I enjoy aesthetically, and I find the textured surfaces he creates to be captivating. Seeing his process only strengthened my appreciation of his work, as it is quite a laborious job to create just one of his works. There is the application of layer upon layer, each layer needing to be manipulated before the next can be put down. And the methodical labor is worth it, because his works are visually breathtaking. Bandleaders bend backward and dance within an animated landscape, whose almost confetti-like surface seems to tremble with life. I don’t think that we could have ended our studio visits with a better experience.

Lobby area of the newly reopened MoMa.

The biggest portion of our time was spent however, at the newly reopened Museum of Modern Art. I was very excited about this trip, as I’ve been discussing the MoMa in my classes often this semester, and I was curious to see if what we discussed had rung true. Reviews regarding the MoMa’s reorganized collection were mixed from what I found, with the majority being positive. I wondered how they would deal with the narrative of modern art, as theirs is very much one based on abstraction, and Western abstraction at that. I also wondered if there would be more gender and race diversity present.

The pamphlet seemed to be a good sign upon entry. Western masters such as Picasso and Van Gogh were not mentioned more than once within the pamphlet or the accompanying map. You knew where to find them on the map, yet there wasn’t any sort of compulsion to find them. With a focus that seemed to guide away from the traditional Western narrative, the pamphlet left me hoping that there would be more of a spotlight on global artist I had never encountered before, or at least ones that I could learn more about.

Haegue Yang, Installation view of “Handles,” 2019.

The first few works I encountered were fantastic, especially Haegue Yang’s iridescent room with mobile found object sculptures and art duo JODI’s Pollock-esque, chaotic ‘desktop performances.’ Yang’s room had such a ritual atmosphere to it, as the wheels on the sculptures implied to me some sort of procession, or choreographed movement. I also love her re-contextualizing of objects to perform hold new purposes, like the hundred-odd bells that comprised her various sculptures. JODI’s video installations were as terrifying as they were entertaining, consisting of someone playing with a computer so erratically and intensely that the computer was constantly crashing. The opening, closing, and moving of several folders at once, accompanied by the frantic and frankly overwhelming chorus of clicking and pop-up dialog chimes was anxiety inducing, and the visuals provided less comfort. This work, along with Gretchen Bender’s Dumping Core, reminded me a great deal of Christian Marclay’s 48 War Movies, though not as intense.

JODI, Joan Heemskerk, Dirk Paesmans, “My%Desktop,” 2002, Video installations.

I am not sure if my initial expectations were met exactly, even though I had a wonderful time. Something I observed that seemed strange to me was the way in which certain exhibits were organized. The one I took most notice of was that of American Abstraction. We had spoken at length about this exhibit in my capstone class, analyzing the somewhat glaring gender bias that has existed in that section despite the MoMa’s past restructuring. Now, rather than an absence of female artists and the only female representation coming from the ghastly form of de Kooning’s Woman I, there are two works by female artists, Hedda Sterne and Lee Krasner respectively. However, what I take issue with is the Hedda Sterne work being placed right next to Woman I. It seems almost a tad tactless to place a work by a woman (a scarcity in this part of the gallery) next to the only figurative work in the room that portrays a sexual aggressive and frightening looking woman. What sort of juxtaposition does that create? Does it create a juxtaposition, or does it create a dichotomy? A dichotomy of the two types of women in art? The Lee Krasner work is set up right next to a Jackson Pollock with which it bears startling resemblance to. I find issue with this again for the comparison I feel it prompts. Despite the adjustments made in the name of diversity, this gallery still visually read as an abstractionist boys-only club to me.

Installation view of American Abstraction wing.

Critiques aside, it was a great time and I’m happy that the semester ended here, in a place that epitomizes all that we learned and discussed throughout the course. The final trip was bittersweet, but it made the entire semester worth it, I think.

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