Poetry from the trenches

Going to MoMA’s current exhibition, “Inventing Abstraction: 1910-1925” was like a French New Year’s feast with a boggled mind afterward instead of a groaning belly: there was fois gras. There were oysters. Champagne, white wine, red wine, digestif. Lobster, roast, and quail. And of course, the moelleux.

Discoveries for me were:

Josef Albers’ Gitterbild (1921), a droll and clever teaching tool that transformed wire and industrial glass samples into a modernist study of color resonance and texture,

a whole wall of Kasimir Malevich’s Suprematist compositions–abstract portraits, landscapes and still lifes,

a 1979 reconstructed model of Vladimir Tatlin’s Monument to the Third International (1920), which sat ambitiously and quite uneasily in the gallery, surrounded by other Constructivist masterworks

and

Suzanne Duchamp’s Solitude entonnoir (1921), which entered into melancholy conversation with all of the grinders and rotaries and mills in the work of brother Marcel (dutifully represented in painting, sculpture and cinema).

The most extraordinary, however, was an extremely rare copy of Guillame Apollinaire’s Case d’Armons (1915). Apollinaire published the (I believe) hand-bound booklet of 21 poems on graph paper with the help of two sergeant friends from the trenches during the First World War. The booklet sat in a vitrine, covered by a velvet powder blue cloth. Visitors approached and lifted the cloth, perhaps expecting to see something illicit, and were met with the incredible fragility and power of aesthetics amidst war.

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