Chilling at MoMA's Bookstore

By Peggy Roalf   Friday July 6, 2018

MoMA is my preferred HAFH during a heat wave. Cool spacious galleries, social areas with good WiFi and places to roost between views—and the second floor bookstore/café—align for a perfect match. Early to meet a friend the other day, I drifted into the mezzanine bookstore overlooking 54thStreet and began browsing randomly. To my surprise I detected what must be for MoMA a somewhat subversive installation. On a single display stand to the left of the charge desk is a selection of identifiably Self Help Books. See for yourself:


The Steal Like an Artist Journal: A Notebook for Creative Kleptomaniacs by Austin Kleon (Workman 2015) is one of those journals for people who simply can’t commit to keeping a journal—usually limp-minded attempts to make money in publishing. But this one is truly a self help that could break a writer’s block. With page headings like: Sit at your desk and listen—F. Kafka; Cut out the panes in a comic book, rearrange them, and paste them here; Start randomly typing into a search box and write down the autosuggestions; Write your favorite Quote here. Say it 5 different ways; Write something here that would bet you fired, expelled, or disowned. 

Another title that would dispatch the creative blues is Art is the Highest Form of Hope & Other Quotes by Artists by Phaidon Editors. This is one of those books that’s usually slammed together cheaply to fill out a publisher's Spring list, but it actually holds words of wisdom, such as: Success is dangerous. One begins to copy oneself and to copy oneself is more dangerous than to copy others; At one time I was a bill collector in Harlem; Instead of looking at things, look between things; not to forget: Art is the highest form of hope—Gerhard Richter.

The Big Picture: Contemporary Art in 10 Works by 10 Artists by Matthew Israel (Prestel 2017). Israel, Artsy’s curator at large, has selected 10 artworks made by contemporary artists within the last 15 years, with a view towards "introducing these monumental artworks shaping today’s contemporary art scene but also exploring the context and social landscape in which they were created as well as the different art currents these groundbreaking works received inspiration from and challenged.” Phew. What the jacket copy writer means is that 20-somethings who want to be cool and engaged with contemporary art even though they lack the most fundamental art appreciation education can now go to art fairs and speak authoritatively to their friends about contemporary art provided they buy this book. If only they knew: you can say whatever you want about what a work of contemporary art means because unless you've had a beer with the artist, you’ll never know for sure.

Last, not least, is the 18thedition of E.H. Gombrich’s The Story of Art (Phaidon), the enduring classic that I first read as a freshman at Cooper Union. I currently also own Gombrich’s The Story of Art for Young Readers—you could say it’s more of a beach read.





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