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    An Art Tour With The Director Of The Museum Of Modern Art

    "But is it art?" Yes, says MoMA director Glenn D. Lowry. And he should know.

    A shit ton of amazing artworks from New York's Museum of Modern Art just arrived in Australia.

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    They're appearing at the National Gallery of Victoria's MoMA at NGV exhibition, which runs until October 7.

    If you've ever wondered, "WTF is modern art anyway?" here's your chance to find out...

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    So buckle up with your art tour guide Glenn D. Lowry, director of MoMA (and the man with the best sock game in global art).

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    1. "Bicycle Wheel", Marcel Duchamp, 1951.

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    "Great object. Duchamp pioneered the idea of the ready made. The idea that you could take material that was found and turn it into art. So you've a stool with a bicycle wheel on it and you think "well how could that be art?" And then you look at it you go "well it's kind of beautiful", and it's sculptural, and Duchamp makes you think. He opened up the whole trajectory of conceptual art."

    2. "Unique Forms of Continuity in Space", Umberto Boccioni, 1913.

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    "Just imagine the air currents circulating around a body in movement. It captures flight long before there were wind tunnels. Long before they were digitally modeling systems that could describe the way in which a body displaces air as it moves. I've always adored this figure because it is the essence of movement. And yet at the same time if you look at it carefully head on what you see is a cross. So it's also a very interesting evocation of the idea of a Christian warrior. On the eve of the First World War. So the futurists – which we see as radical – were also on some levels deeply conservative."

    3. "Ballet mécanique", Fernand Léger, 1924.

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    "This is the moment when industrialization is not bad, it's progressive. And what's so interesting about that film is the way in which Léger kind of collides all of these new inventions with each other in a new medium. It's a peek into the industrial revolution through the most avant-garde, newly created way of describing that revolution: film."

    4. "Composition in Red, Blue, and Yellow", Piet Mondrian, 1937-42.

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    "Mondrian gets to Paris just as cubism is really taking off, and he gets it, he understands it. Cubism – the fracturing of the picture plane – offers a new way to see and think, but Mondrian doesn't stop there. He simply makes it bolder and keeps unpacking the structure of cubism, till he arrives at geometric abstraction, a purely reductive way of making an image.

    "They are so beautifully calibrated I think of them as kind of musical notations or poetry. And the closer you look the more you're rewarded by the syncopation of rhythm that he manages to make. We're so used to that kind of imagery today that we don't fully appreciate how radical it was to create a painting that wasn't about something observable. Amazing."

    5. "The Persistence of Memory", Salvador Dalí, 1931.

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    "Dali's great masterwork is one of the most popular paintings that we have in the MoMA. It's up there with Van Gogh's “Starry Night” and Picasso’s “Les Demoiselles d'Avignon”. It just absolutely captures people's imagination because first of all it’s an incredibly intense image. And because it's small it intensifies that experience about the warp between time and space."

    "It makes us aware that time is a very complicated idea that in the imagination can stretch and expand in ways that can only be described by ideas like the theory of relativity. And of course it was made at a time when Einstein's thinking was prevalent right? So Dali’s absorbing all of this knowledge then dreaming about it and then creating a kind of mind-scape that just touches everyone."

    6. "Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair", Frida Kahlo, 1940.

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    "She's the ultimate self reflective artist. There's something [so powerful] about her story, her relationship to Diego Rivera, the pain in her life and her willingness to expose the rawness of the emotions that she's willing to let us see. The profoundly effective and affective imagery that she creates in her obsessive exploration of herself is something we can all feel in in a way. We've come to her because of our own obsessions with the selfie and of trying to place ourselves in the world."

    7. "Running white", Ellsworth Kelly, 1959.

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    "Kelly goes to Europe right after the Second World War and absorbs the lessons of Picasso and Matisse. But he is a profoundly American artist. So he starts to think about the language of European avant-garde art and then reduces it and abstracts it into these extraordinarily beautiful images, often linked to something he saw. Very rarely are his works utterly abstract, they're abstracted from something he observed: a shadow on a street, a door frame, a window... That he just keeps working on working on reducing it until it's a series of lines or swirl."

    8. "Drowning Girl", Roy Lichtenstein, 1963.

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    "So Lichtenstein – along with Warhol and other artists in the 60s – sought to get away from the highly charged emotional language of Abstract Expressionism, so turned to everyday material. Warhol famously to soup cans, Lichtenstein to comic books – something he grew up with, something that most Americans saw as familiar."

    "But by abstracting an image out of a comic book and then expanding it and painting it as opposed to simply reproducing it mechanically, you get to a point where it takes on its own resonance. I think the significance of what Roy did and what Warhol did is to remind us that the quotidian, the everyday, can also be art."

    9. "New Shelton Wet/Dry Doubledecker", Jeff Koons, 1981.

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    "There is the readymade. It takes us right back to the bicycle wheel. Take an object that is available to anyone, do something different with it dislocated from its original context – the sale room, vacuuming the floor – and turn it into an object and a work of art. They're quite beautiful, and the genius was to take not one but two, so now he's made a stack and put them in Perspex. Now we know it's art. It's a mind game."

    10. "Untitled" (Toronto), Felix Gonzalez-Torres, 1992.

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    "Felix Gonzalez-Torres take a strand of lights and does something different with them – and they're very beautiful. They're consciously beautiful but he was dealing with the era of AIDS and the fragility of life, and there's just something about those light bulbs that are eventually going to burn out. We are [fragile] as human beings. We might even be stepped on, cracked, and fractured: just the way AIDS was going to rip through people's lives."

    11. "Totem", Keith Haring, 1989.

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    "These are really richly engaged works of art that have an intensity that's perhaps the result of individuals who are going to lead very compressed lives."

    12. "Gone: An Historical Romance of a Civil War as It Occurred b'tween the Dusky Thighs of One Young Negress and Her Heart", Kara Walker, 1994.

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    "Kara Walker is a brilliant young African-American artist. She takes an old antebellum technique – paper cut outs – and uses them to tell deeply troubling stories about slavery and about the way in which her people were oppressed. So this technique, often associated with the parlour with the most elegant refined Southern etiquette, is now telling horrifying stories of brutality."

    13. "The Original Emoji", Shigetaka Kurita, 1999.

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    "From the beginning, the museum believed that design, whether it was industrial design or what we would just call design work, was as important as anything else being made. So we are interested in these works because they reflect a brilliant way of visualising the world. We collected the early emoji as the language was being created, because it is a fascinating way to think about transferring information: which after all is what art often does."

    14. "Space Invaders", Tomohiro Nishikado, 1978.

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    "In the same way [we collect emoji] we collect video games for their graphic power – and the software that generates them is all about design."

    15. "Measuring the Universe", Roman Ondák, 2007.

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    "Measuring the Universe is one of the great works of the collection. A work of art that is only a work of art through participation. You get measured the way you would as a child every year against the door or a wall to see how you grow. Ondák just extrapolates that to the tens of thousands of people who visit the museum during this time."

    "And what's so fascinating about that work is it does multiple things. First of all it allows each person to describe him or herself in the exhibition. Secondly it only is a work of art. If you make a work of art there's a generosity and a participation, and then at the end there are these beautiful stunning visual vortex that will be a record of the thousands of people who came to the show. "

    Soz Darryl.

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    Simon Crerar travelled to Melbourne as a guest of the NGV.

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