Modernity and the MOMA: Bring Wang Ping to her 10,000 Waves

To: Glen D. Lowry, Stuart Comer, Martin Hartung

Modernity at MOMA: Unite Wang Ping with her creation, 10, 000 Waves

Modernity is a long-debated subject. Are we inching toward modernity, or merely at its tail towards post-modernity is a question stretched as far back as even Nietzsche.

Let us take a moment, then, to recognize what modernity might mean in terms of the arts. If we were to listen to Nietzsche, he would assure us that art was birthed out of resistance — whether between man and society, or the Dionysian and Apollonian forces within himself. That art is a measure of spiritual resilience, one must also begin to wonder how to recognize art in a world that is evolving “from” or “to” “modernity”; indeed, after the Zaumniks, Dadaists, and Situationists, the distinction between artistic and mundane, and “structural” and “anti-structural”, became less recognizable.

What is that medium, then, that elevates the mundane into the artistic? How to become relevant in a world where a Campbell soup can is, quite literally, artistic history?

Favianna Rodriguez, visual artist and now Stanford professor, has lined the streets of California, New York, and the world over with her monarch butterflies saying “Immigration is life! Immigration is beautiful!”, and so we understand in these globalized cities that we people are just part of a grander human movement and experience. Especially so in a place like New York — where Ellis Island’s immigration center just in 2014 celebrated its 100 year anniversary — the need to understand the unfolding complexities of migration must find its way back to the people.

And so the people have been able to grasp the artists’ cry at the MOMA; which contextualizes the struggle, makes the art that much more irresistable, our hearts that much more open, and likewise our hunger seeks out more nourishment.

Unfortunately, New York also has a reputation for reaping the rewards of its residential geniuses, while also completely disregarding the person themselves. Case and point, Nikola Tesla — whose name is a street on Bryant Park and 42nd — created free energy for all the world, and yet died poor. In this respect, I see no difference between the MOMA benefitting from the poetry of Wang Ping through 10, 000 Waves, and not having Ping at the exhibit.

I would expect it to be understood that having the original artist would only deepen the audience’s experience, and the general ambience of the museum. Why is there so much struggle to do this for Ping (– especially when there is a direct connection between Ping and 10,000 Waves)? As it seems like an elementary understanding, this (my first introduction to MOMA) makes me question its administration, its views on art and artists, and its general decision making.

At the same time, and given how the United States has historically oppressed the agency and voice of migrants, I’m also not surprised that the recognition was transferred away from a Chinese migrant woman. It burns even more to think 10,000 Waves is an exhibit about migration — what is the justice in this? Doesn’t the exclusion of Ping and her voice actually dissolve the message behind 10,000 Waves; if so, at what point is the MOMA merely performing the superficial representation of freedom, while simultaneously cutting the agency of an artist — a person who speaks truth to power, what ever the medium? If, as Nietzsche says, art is a form of resistance, how is the MOMA actually perpetuating this type of colonial violence? When will the MOMA step up and toward modernity?

Even further, I begin to question who is the audience, the subject, and who is allowed the privilege of the “gaze” when I see the tickets are $25 and the book $100 — which, from my own personal experiences as a son of migrants — would seem beyond the scope of migrants. Are migrants the object, made objectified? What is MOMA doing to assure that migrants are a part of the audience? That the socioeconomically privileged (because seeing this exhibit is a privilege in respect to money, time, leisure) are granted this gaze again reinforces the historical practice of “otherizing” any community that is outside those who are rich enough to commodify the others’ experience? What then is a house of muses, if not everybody is welcome; if we let the social construction that is money interfere with the deeper message?

I, myself, am the son of Mexican migrants, am first-generation — the only person in the entirety of my family to have graduated college — and believe that having Wang Ping is in many ways fundamental to grasping the power of Ten Thousand Waves. I don’t understand why so much energy must be conjured to balance this invisible resistance; and would expect MOMA to embrace Ping as she stands alone, with her work, and most certainly at the helm of 10,000 Waves.

I feel that there shouldn’t be resistance, if those who direct the MOMA are artists; I’m otherwise led to believe there’s something deeper at stake — why else the resistance. If there is no resistance, there should be no problem.

This is very much like Langston Hughes’s “The Problem with Intermarriage”, in which he proposes the simple solution of not “inter-marrying”. We understand the solution is actually quite complex, and yet there is something invisible and internalized which blocks society from moving forward. Excuse, at least for this circumstance, my binary thinking. I think, similarly, there are two solutions: have Wang Ping over to experience her work, or take 10,000 Waves out completely. Or maybe explain why there’s resistance in the first place.

I hope you do consider your place in context of modernity. I hope you move toward it.


Professor Mex


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