It’s a little hard to tell what Dominique Browning–the former editor of House and Garden–is trying to get at in her Wall Street Journal review of the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) in New York’s Columbus Circle. On the one hand, she’s a skeptic about the mixture of folk art guilelessness and retail aggression:
So much talk about the “blurred lines” between everything — art, design, craft, you name it — renders everything meaningless. All things are designed; what makes Design? Anything can be art — though most things aren’t. The shrouding of commerce in the vestments of art has created a lucrative market for furniture and decorative objects; it enhances the investment quality of a cup or a chair, inspiring confidence among insecure, newly rich, collectors. You’ll have good reason to weep if you break a plate by Cindy Sherman (on display but not for sale at MAD), but you can always buy another. It is one thing to craft a piece of pottery, however graceful, another to create art as a sculptor working in clay. The distinction is in the work itself and in most cases it is obvious.
That last part was a bit sniffy. And you’d be right to worry about living up the Ms. Browning’s standards if she didn’t also include this reverie in her review:
The new building provides twice the exhibition space, with two floors for changing exhibits. Now on is “Second Lives,” a collection of works constructed of ordinary things — coins, shoes, bottle tops. I was entranced by the beauty of what looked like a shimmering coral branch by Tara Donovan, made of thousands of buttons stacked slightly askew, so that the edges shivered and blurred. I was so caught up in watching the play of light as it penetrated the piece that I forgot to wonder about art or design; the same thing happened in front of an enchanting piece by Paul Villinski called “My Back Pages.” Butterflies had been meticulously cut from vinyl records with a scroll saw, their colorful labels forming the body of the insect; they soared out of a vintage record player sitting on the floor, and fanned across the wall. It is breathtaking, at once whimsical and, oddly, bittersweet. “The soundtrack of my life,” as the artist described it, included records by Van Morrison, Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis, Fleetwood Mac. He listened to each one last time before engineering its reincarnation; the piece has the resonance of a fairy tale.
Though one can’t help but think of Milan Kundera’s two tears of kitsch. The first tear is our sentimentality; the second is how touched we are at acknowledging our own sentimentality:
A Collection in Need of Definition (Wall Street Journal)