When the two words model mad first occurred to us, it was simply to thank one of our favorite people for continuing to resist wrongness in new, clever manner, without losing his cool and thereby keeping it effective. Since then we have found a story almost every day that illustrates the fertile ground of protest created in recent times. And today, thanks to the New York Times, we see another one:
President Trump’s executive order banning travel and rescinding visas for citizens of seven majority-Muslim nations does not lack for opponents in New York — from Kennedy Airport, where striking taxi drivers joined thousands of demonstrators, to the United Nations, whose new secretary general, António Guterres, said the measures “violate our basic principles.”
Now the Museum of Modern Art — which in past decades has cultivated a templelike detachment — is making its voice heard as well. In one of the strongest protests yet by a major cultural institution, the museum has reconfigured its fifth-floor permanent-collection galleries — interrupting its narrative of Western Modernism, from Cézanne through World War II — to showcase contemporary art from Iran, Iraq and Sudan, whose citizens are subject to the ban. A Picasso came down. Matisse, down. Ensor, Boccioni, Picabia, Burri: They made way for artists who, if they are alive and abroad, cannot see their work in the museum’s most august galleries. (A work from a Syrian artist has been added to the film program. The other affected countries are Somalia, Yemen and Libya.)
The works will be up for several months, and alongside each painting, sculpture, or photograph is a text that makes no bones about why it has suddenly surfaced: “This work is by an artist from a nation whose citizens are being denied entry into the United States, according to a presidential executive order issued on January 27, 2017. This is one of several such artworks from the Museum’s collection installed throughout the fifth-floor galleries to affirm the ideals of welcome and freedom as vital to this Museum, as they are to the United States.”
On Thursday night I observed three curators — Christophe Cherix, head of the department of prints and drawings; Jodi Hauptman, a senior curator in that department; and Paulina Pobocha, an assistant curator in the department of painting and sculpture — mulling which works from a rolling dolly to include and, no less challenging, what to remove.
In the recently redesigned Picasso gallery, that Spanish artist’s “Card Player” of 1913-14 has been replaced by “The Mosque,” a small oil painting from 1964 by the Sudanese artist Ibrahim el-Salahi. Mr. Salahi freely interweaves Modernist abstraction, Arabic calligraphy and architectural motifs. There’s a tonal rhyme between the burnished browns of “The Mosque” and the mucky beige and mushroom pigments of Picasso’s analytical Cubist tableaus — and Picasso’s own deep debt to African art is further underlined by his new company…