by Elissa Watters, guest blogger
Stupidogramm, pencil on printed paper, 1962
“Where do you buy love?” poet Taylor Mead asks me. The question takes me by surprise and I look around, but do not find the answer. The works on the white walls of the Museum of Modern Art, NYC, do not hold such answers but instead ask more questions, especially here on the 3rd floor in the special exhibition “Ecstatic Alphabets/Heaps of Language,” which will close on August 27th. Someone bumps me and I realize that Taylor Mead (who still regularly recites poetry at Bowery Poetry Club in NYC) is no longer speaking. Now Frank O’Hara is reciting a poem; I put down the phone—one of the phones from the Dial-a-Poem project, conceived by Giorno in 1969, which are part of the exhibit. For this project, numerous poets were recorded reciting their poems; participants could then call a local number to hear the recordings of these prominent poets (e.g. O’Hara, Ginsburg, Ashbery) at random.
This exhibition traces the relationship between art and language from the early 20th century to the present day. The artistic manifestations of the fascination with language have clearly evolved. The merge between art and language may have begun with pieces like Duchamp’s Anemic Cinema (1926), but it has since become even more abstract, taking on forms like Shannon Ebner’s photograph RAW WAR (2004).
Anemic Cinema, film still by
The multimedia works on display break down and rearrange elements of art and language (i.e. images, objects, shapes, colors, sounds, letters, punctuation and more). The results are both beautiful and bewildering. This exhibition amasses the questions that have been asked about language for over a century and reflects them back to you. You enter innocent and unguarded and leave a bit disoriented and pensive, wondering how language works, what sounds, letters and words really mean (if anything) and whether language ever really expresses what we are truly thinking and feeling.
RAW WAR, chromogenic print, color photograph, 2004
For those who cannot visit “Ecstatic Alphabets/Heaps of Language,” there are other ways to get a taste of the exhibition. Call the local NY number 347-POET001 (MoMA does not charge, but mobile fees will apply) or go online to listen to Dial-a-Poem.