Hi all, Allison here with a little reflection on HAND FOOT FIZZLE FACE in relation to WORK. Specifically, my work, or rather, the work for which I earn a modest salary at the Museum of Modern Art. Before I begin, let me just say that I truly value the work that I do, the people with whom I work, and the fact that I’m lucky enough to work at one of a very few unionized cultural institutions. That being said, my union, Local 2110, Professional and Administrative Staff Association of The Museum of Modern Art (PASTA-MoMA), is involved in a rather hairy contract negotiation with museum management. At first I was merely crestfallen to hear that the organization for which I’m able to work partially because it offers excellent health benefits was threatening to severely cut those benefits - until I realized how deeply my feelings on the matter were beginning to align with HFFF. Then I was...more productively crestfallen. The thing is, I’ve only been at the MoMA for about 9 months, but at every single staff meeting we’ve heard that this is the museum’s best year ever, that the endowment is at an incredible all-time high, that retail sales are through the roof, etc. To suddenly hear a change of tune, right as our contract runs out, that things are inexplicably maybe going to start looking grim, has created the impression that not only is our work undervalued, but so too are our critical thinking abilities. Then, to threaten our health care specifically, to insist that we shoulder a new burden that threatens our medical care without a commensurate wage increase, feels like a direct assault on our bodies. Bodies, minds, work. Bodies, minds, work - and art. Specifically, some of the most admired, expensive art in the world.
So here we are, aware of our suddenly more fragile-seeming bodies, tasked with the care of this massive collection of incredible, beautiful, moving objects. I mostly sit in my office tinkering with the collections database, but sometimes I have the great pleasure of entering the galleries and spending some time with the pieces it catalogs. It’s startling to find that, when you realize that the institution partially responsible for the fame and value of these objects is trying to get your work/time/body at a discount (and during a flush year at that), the power of these pieces - well - it fizzles. They fizzle. They’re just sitting there being worth more than your health, and their emotional resonance flattens. Sure, I believe that art can have immense value, and that we mere humans use dollars to demonstrate this concept, and all of this is no surprise, but suddenly the strangeness of Foirades/Fizzles - brief meditations on suffering and the human body wrapped in a luxurious, exorbitant package - started to vibrate in my own body. My own body which may end up forgoing that foot surgery I should probably have - it’s not really that necessary and will only prevent my knees from decaying too fast which is probably a fool’s errand after all, right? Maybe a new building to share more of the MoMA’s collection with the public is more important than offsetting the cost of my partner’s sure-to-collapse-someday lung - or maybe it does more damage to the work and the artists’ intentions to finance a shiny new building (or package, if you will) on the backs of workers. I’m under the impression that there isn’t too much union-busting, anti-labor art in the collection but hey, what do I know. On the other hand, maybe the more glamorous, expensive, and anti-labor the museum becomes, and the more at odds with some of the art/themes contained therein, the more new art can spring from the crackling cognitive dissonance of that juxtaposition - and so on...prodding...calibrating...fizzling...fizzling...fizzling...
Cover image by Carol Rosegg