by cheri block
I visited the Museum of Modern Art in New York City last Friday with the express purpose of seeing Edvard Munch’s famous pastel, The Scream. This piece of art, drawn in 1895, resides in a private collection.
Until my visit, I thought that the wavy figure holding his head and covering his ears was Munch’s symbol of existential terror.
Instead, I learned that the scream is coming from Nature, symbolized by the green, blue, and orange curves which undulate, like the man’s curvy body in the foreground, in contrast to the symbols of humanity and its constraints, which Munch represents by the straight-lined bridge, railing, and background figures.
Little did I know that Munch’s message would be played out in the MoMa cafeteria an hour later, as I attempted to munch my lunch.
And yet, upon reflection, it seems wholly appropriate to me that one of the most contemporary and bizarre conversations I have ever been forced to eavesdrop occurred at MoMa, during what I had anticipated would be a solitary lunch, taken after a thoughtful morning stroll among paintings and objects that scream at the traditional artistic expression.
Perhaps it was the ten or more copies of Andy Warhol’s Chairman Mao shown in complementary colors and hung on the wall every several feet in a metallic room so crowded and loud that the pounding in my head eclipsed it all and influenced my mouth to say “Sure,” when a rail-thin hostess wondered, “Will this seat work?”
Each table was thin and long. Modern curvy chairs without arms, constructed of wood and metal and ergonomically approved, faced their tables like dance partners. At each table were ten chairs on one side and ten on the other, providing the 20 diners with the same type of closeness race horses must experience in a starting gate. Multiply this table by 15 or 20, add the chefs’ open-faced kitchen with fire and cool servers with ice.
Not listening to Erica and Abigail’s conversation was impossible. Really.
What was surprising was that they were not concerned about me, sitting alone with no face opposite, no eyes blinking, no tongue wagging, no nodding. Ahhh, I duly note: I am in New York City where psychiatrists out number the rats on the docks.
Erica (age 50, maybe): So, my daughter, from whom I am estranged, showed up at my door last week with a ring of mine that she says she stole 20 years ago.
Abby (age 55, definitely): Did you recognize the ring?
Erica:No, but I took a picture of it on my iPhone and showed it to my boyfriend Mitch, who identified it as an aquamarine. Did I tell you that we have sold everything in our apartment but the microwave, because you know, you need a microwave, because we are moving to Sri Lanka at the end of the month?
Abby: What an adventure!
Erica: Yes, but Mitch’s daughter, whom, ironically, he is estranged from, has decided that she will visit us only two weeks after we arrive. Can you believe the little rat would do that? I’ve been online and learned that there is an elephant festival in India the same week that she says she is coming, so we are definitely leaving to see that.
Abby: What is your brother up to?
Erica: Well, all I can say is that he left New York City as a communist to take an art job in Paris and has done so well, he is now a Republican and voted, if you can believe it, for Romney!!!
Abby: Whaaat? How is that possible?
Erica: And my other brother, who celebrated his 50th birthday in Berlin, is totally distraught because his only daughter is converting to Judaism.
Abby: No. This takes the cake.How Jewish is she? Very Jewish?
Erica: Well, at Thanksgiving this year, she brought her own food!
Abby: Yeah. Really? Wow.
I tried not to listen but as the minutes ticked by, I wished I had ordered wine instead of coffee. Maybe Abby was Erica’s therapist.
Erica then went on to outline how she will game the system by lying so she can collect unemployment after working at her job for only eleven months. So munch for a generous government. She is closing down her Facebook page, so no one will know she’s left for Sri Lanka.
It all was so modern. So empty of substance. So screaming vacuous.
I longed to be in Nature where the peacefulness of hundreds of wild turkeys stamping the lawn to smitherines and mating faster than lab mice, awakens me each morning.
To do this, I left the Abby and Erica still sharing nothing but sharing everything in the MoMa Cafeteria.
Fortunately, a new exhibit from Germany had just arrived and the installation had been completed.