MoMA

The two artworks I chose come from section 202 “In the Shadow of the American Dream” on the second floor. The artworks presented in this area come from the 1980s in America, often specifically in New York, to showcase the gripes artists had as during this time the landscape of America was terrorized with the likes of the AIDS epidemic, financial loss, and more. 

The first artwork I chose was Martin Wong’s piece titled ‘Houston Street’ created in 1986. This is a two-part work, where one side depicts one of those typical rusty metal gates used to close up a small shop painted on canvas with no other distinctions, and the other half features a similar door, but covered in graffiti. The half displayed at the MoMA is the one with no graffiti at all. Martin Wong was a painter who lived in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, which is likely why he decided to paint this rusted store shutter as he had likely passed by many walking in the streets of Manhattan. This metal gate is mostly grey with brown all over to showcase the rust of the door. Through the slight holes in the gate near the top, all that is shown is pitch-black darkness. The overwhelming amount of grey and the lack of anything behind the gate’s holes creates a sense of mystery to the viewer. It appeals to pathos as it makes the viewer feel a sense of longing. It leads to questions such as; Is the business shut down? Is the store simply closed for the day? What type of business lies behind the door? Knowing that he made this artwork during a time in NYC when gentrification started to rise, even gloomier conclusions can be reached. His purpose when creating this artwork was to showcase the possible horrors of the gentrification that was flooding NYC at the time. The minimalist excessive details combined with the maximalist use of shading and coloring on the whole door do a great job of instilling that feeling of an ominous mystery, far different from a mystery you’d see in a TV show.

The second artwork I chose was the piece “Fire” by David Wojnarowicz in 1987. Wojnarowicz was a writer, artist, and most importantly, an activist. Living in the streets of downtown New York, it is likely that he had shared many similar experiences with Martin Wong and had come to harbor similar feelings towards the overall ‘American Dream’. “Fire” is one of four paintings in a series titled “The Four Elements”, in which the artist aims to put four different narratives found in the American culture. He combines these narratives with paint and cut-out pieces of paper and magazines to articulate his experiences in America. Due to the name of the piece, he paints various figures related to fire such as a volcano, a demon-like character, actual fire, and overwhelming amounts of red colors. The painting is seemingly split into four quarters to shift your focus to. The top left includes a snake, a volcano, a sign of a gun, and a match that looks like it’s about to light a fire in the background filled with the FBI’s most wanted pictures. Other noteworthy parts of the painting include a dung beetle covered in ripped magazine portions of coupons and grocery deals, a snake in a jar of red liquid, and a very large battery. Compared to the previous painting, this one appeals to pathos by giving off anger. Red is a common color associated with anger, and more importantly, is often used as a color to garner attention. I predict that he used these colors to bring attention to his issues with the justice system, and issues with capitalism in America, or just gripes with general consumerism. While both art pieces do well in bringing out negative emotions in the viewer, the differences come from what emotion they are striving for, and the method they use. Wong uses ambiguity, mystique, and minimalism to draw on anxiety, while Wojnarowicz uses clashing imagery and maximalism to draw out anger and a call to action.

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