by Andrew Baker
The first time I went to The Museum of Modern Art was for a Gerhard Richter retrospective in the winter of 2002. It was my final semester of college, and a couple of friends and I had made the drive up from Greensboro to visit some grad schools, see some art, and to become better acquainted with the city. Looking back, the experience is a bit of a blur (rim shot). We had gone to MoMA at the end of long and exhausting day that we'd spent at the Met, which happened to also be a suggested donation evening. Unlike the Met , MoMA is almost always an unavoidably expensive place to go (currently $20 required admission), but for a couple of hours on Friday evenings the museum is opened up to a suggested admission price, and these are reliably the busiest times you will ever see the place. On that evening, for one reason or another, public access to the permanent collection had been closed off, meaning that all comers were being filed through the handful of galleries that housed the Richter pictures. It was a mad house; way too crowded to feel comfortable stopping to look, so nobody really did. We all just sort of walked through, giving each picture a cursory read and moving on to the next and the next and the next, until we were let out into the gift shop. I didn't have the money or the inclination to buy one of the books they were hawking, so today, it's almost as if I was never there.
There you have it. My first trip to MoMA was not a memorable one. But it wasn't a total loss. It was also the day I first saw Bill Viola's The Quintet of Remembrance.
At the time, I hadn't been exposed to a great deal of video art. I was an art student sure, but I had a sort of quixotic affinity for the handmade; plus I was living in central North Carolina in a period that predated YouTube, so there wasn't a great deal of opportunity. I had seen a bunch of stills in books and magazines and a few old black and white reels in college. Early William Wegman, some Richard Serra, Dennis Oppenheim, and a few others, but beyond that, mainly student work. I found a kind of adolescent charm in some of it, but I was never really a fan. I had never been pulled in, never felt as though I was in the presence of something that was worth the time it was asking me to spend looking at it.