ron rothman.ron rothman
selectively conformist

Things I Don’t Get

Some things I don’t get:

  1. Why spam is effective (i.e., who is buying that cheap Viagra, paying for those university diplomas, applying for “100% guaranteed” mortgages, etc.?)
  2. Why people ask for (or tolerate) ice cubes in their water
  3. Modern art

I’ll tackle the first two another time. This weekend I went to the Museum of Modern Art.

Ron Visits MOMA

Things I Don't GetThings I Don't GetThings I Don't Get

For the impatient, let me just state my conclusion now: MOMA is the biggest ripoff since college textbooks.

My mother had wanted to visit the museum for some time now, so we made a birthday trip out of it for her.

Admission: $20 apiece. As we paid the cashier, I swear that for a split second I saw the words “I DON’T CARE! I’D RATHER OVERCHARGE PATRONS — THAN CALL MY BENEFACTORS FOR HELP!” floating in a cartoon bubble over his head.

I’ve decided that there are two problems with MOMA.

The first is that they charge an audacious $20 per person. Their mission is clearly not to make their collection accessible to the public; if it were, they’d follow the Met’s example and structure the admission fee as a suggested donation–or at least charge a more reasonable amount.

My theory is that MOMA charges a lot not only to turn a profit, but also in an attempt to help them justify to the public that their collection is indeed “art.” (On the other hand, everybody pretty much agrees that the Met’s collection is art and is worth seeing–and paying for. Unlike at MOMA, no self-aggrandizement is necessary; the Met is secure enough in the value of its art to let people in for free.)

Things I Don't GetThings I Don't GetThings I Don't Get

The second problem is with the collection itself; or maybe it’s with contemporary art in general. Yes, I did enjoy some of the pieces at MOMA–Wyeth and Hopper stand out (how traditional of me!)–but there were several pieces that were silly or pointless. Beautiful art? Good. Though-provoking art? Great! Snigger-provoking art…? Not as much.

Now, before you roll your eyes and say, “Poor Ron. He just doesn’t get it,” let me assure you: you’re right; I don’t get it. But that’s not because I haven’t weighed the facts. I’ve gone through the “What is art?” exercise.

(What is art? “Nothing is art.” “Everything is art.” “Art is art.” “God is art.” “Art just is.” “What art is is indeterminate.” “My wife is art.” “This blog is art.” “The programs I write at work are art. (code is poetry.)” “Yo mama is art.”)

The point is: if I want to ruminate over questions of aesthetics, I’d rather spend my $20 on a good, though-provoking book. It does nothing for me to stare at a blank, white canvas, or some squiggles that a monkey (or a four-year-old Homo sapiens) might have made. (Take this very short and amusing test and judge for yourself.) And frankly, to charge me for the privilege is downright insulting.

Applying blanket “artistic equivalence” is as shady (and counterproductive) as applying blanket moral equivalence. Sometimes, one side really is right. And sometimes, “a blank canvas is just a blank canvas.”


We had a good time at MOMA.

“What?” you say. “Didn’t you just pan that place?”

Well, yes, I suppose I did. But I accept that my $80 (there were 4 of us) is a sunk cost, and I’m perfectly willing to admit that we had a fun time at MOMA. Some art we liked; the rest we mocked. But it was all fun.

Afterwards, we met friends at Gyu-Kaku for some good Japanese BBQ, and then went back to their place to eat our take-out Veniero’s and play games. And the “Most Surreal Scene” award of the evening goes to the boisterous Santa convention was passed in the street outside an East Village bar.

17 Responses to “Things I Don’t Get” [Leave yours »]

  1. sara said:

    In Defense of Contemporary Art….
    $20 is steep – I agree. Alas, MOMA is a private educational institution, and like many other private educational institutions – it’s pricey. As for the white canvas, it’s part of the minimalist art movement. so having it on display makes sense – it’s a current art tradition that should be explored and questioned like abstract art, cubism, pop art, etc. Would MOMA be fulfilling it’s mission if it only had pop art like Warhol but didn’t include any minimalist art from a decade later? I think MOMA wants you to snigger honey….and to pay your $20 :)

  2. Ron [author of post] said:

    okay, fair enough.

    so i’d like to change my complaint to, “Minimalist art is a joke.”

    p.s., it’s not really art if i could have created it. (but did you see the 4-year-old art test? :D )

  3. The Birthday Buddy said:

    Honestly, I like the new building better than much of the art that’s in it. From certain angles it reminds me of an Escher drawing. The Sunday Times Book Review takes on exactly this question this week- if all art is about freedom of expression then everything is art. So maybe there are no fair grounds left on which to critique it. You have just squarely allied yourself with the Greenbergers, my friend. As to the 20 bucks on admission, I think they overspent on renovations and UBS didn’t pick up as much of the tab as hoped. So they’re digging themselves out of a hole. But I agree- it’s ridiculously expensive, and I only go on other people’s free passes.

    You want an antidote to hyperminimalism, try 600 years of Russian art at the Guggenheim. Socialist realism up the wazoo. Of course, I was accused of not looking at the actual art so much as reading the picture frames to see how much of the Russian I could decipher. There may be some truth to this.

    Ugh. Too erudite for a Monday morning. Off for another cup of tea.

  4. Ron [author of post] said:

    agreed–i loved the building! and there are free passes?! (i could have used that information 4 days ago. $-) )

    they should strip all the crappy art from the walls of MOMA and replace it with the Russian frames (just the frames) from the guggenheim. that’d be an improvement.

    p.s., how’d you do on the 4-year-old art test?

  5. The Birthday Buddy said:

    Started strong, ended strong- jumped the shark in the middle. I think I went 5 and 5.

    As to the free passes, anyone who works for UBS gets them. Ahh, the joys of corporate sponsorship.

  6. “MOMA is the biggest ripoff since college textbooks”
    Easy does it Sluggo. I understand your point of view. I’ve also suffered through the white on white stuff. I’ve also taken in too much Rothko. But the comment on the textbooks… Keep it fair, kepp it fair. Let’s not say something we might regret.

  7. I took the 4 year old test. Some of those kids have promising futures as artists (or, more likely, starving artists, but maybe not, if there are enough suckers willing to pay $20 to see each of their exhibitions).

  8. Pfft… so you don’t get minimalist art. Boo-frickin-hoo.

    Try sitting through a John Cage performance. Those were the longest 273 seconds of my life.

  9. Ron [author of post] said:

    CantorIT said:

    Pfft… so you don’t get minimalist art. Boo-frickin-hoo.

    oh, i get it. and it smells. it smells real bad.

    Try sitting through a John Cage performance. Those were the longest 273 seconds of my life.

    i would respect you greatly if you had screamed, “START PLAYING!! WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO START PLAYING!!?”

  10. Brian Fershtman said:


    I’m sorry I never managed to call you back. But maybe electronic communication is a better bet for the 2 of us. Anyway, all is well here, Juliette and I have a 13 month old daughter named Siena, still living near Berkeley, life is good.

    We don’t have any immediate plans for a NY trip but I’ll shoot you an email when we do.

    And BTW, you’re giving thumbs-down to my favorite artist but I love you anyway.

  11. Ron [author of post] said:

    yowsa–brian! i’m glad to hear from you!! (and congratulations to you and juliette!)

    i’d love to see you. actually, i’ll be in the san francisco area next month–3rd week of Jan. (unfortunately, sara’s not coming with me this time.) but i’ll give you a call closer to then; i hope we can meet up (and debate the finer–and i mean that euphemistically–points of modern art ;) ).

  12. Tina Soares said:

    Juliette & Brian,

    It’s Tina Pantuso from Cornell. Congratulations on your daughter! Juliette, I think of you often. I just reached out to Kristin asking how you were. When I “googled” you, lots of stuff came up and I found this.

    I see you are living in Berkeley. How’s life?

    E-mail me: tsoares -at- uamail -dot- albany -dot- edu

  13. Ron [author of post] said:

    hey tina, what am i, chopped liver? :P

  14. Tina Soares said:


    You really scared me. I thought I completely lost my mind and you had gone to Cornell. Northwestern isn’t half bad.

    Do you have Juliette and Brian’s e-mail?


  15. Ron [author of post] said:

    :P gee, thanks.

    hehe, no worries, i’ll send brian your email address. (i’m seeing him in a couple of weeks–for the first time in ~10 years!)

  16. Alot of what you see when you look at “modern” art is the results of the revolution that began with the invention of the camera. Art was no longer the visual document of the physical world – photos do that better. This gave artists the freedom to experiment with the conceptual instead of documenting the physical. And that’s what modern art is – experiments, and the cultural context and history built around those experiments. Steve Jobs built a computer in his garage, and now he’s famous. Who cares if I could cobble together a computer in my garage, and anyone that would boast that their homebrew computer is equal to Job’s homebrew computer really doesn’t get it.

    by that logic, all Rosa Parks did was sit on a bus… even a four year old could do that ;P

  17. nicely played.


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