Seen Art? – Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith

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Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith have a raft of wonky, beloved books to their credit, including The Stinky Cheeseman–fabulous!–and Math Curse and Science Verse, two instructive and memorable tales of tricky topics. So, when they tackle art, you can expected something unexpected. Seen Art? is a play on words that plays with your mind. There is plenty of  art to see at the Museum of Modern Art, if that’s what you happen to be looking for. The round-headed little guy with scribbles for hair is actually after a person, not the seen art on the pedestals and walls of the museum. But, language being what it is, the museum’s collection is what he gets.

Guy starts out looking for his friend Art on the corner of fifth and fifty-third. Too bad the friend’s name wasn’t Fred. Helpful New Yorkers steer him to MoMA where he decides MoMA must be some sort of code word and gets himself deeper and deeper into galleries filled with Warhols, Miros, Picassos, Calders, Klees, Duchamps, Moores and Modiglianis. Dali, de Kooning, Dubuffet, Rauschenberg, Lichtenstein, Giacometti–they’re all here. But where is Art? Is he in the eye of the beholder?  Umm, no. That’s Magritte. Is he in one of the smeary, drippy, paint-splashed states on the enormous wall map? Jasper Johns, definitely art, but what about Art?

Everyone has their own ideas but no one has the definitive answer, not even Pablo’s She-Goat, that lovely cartoonish bronze one in the garden.  It’s a confusion of famous images juxtaposed together, perhaps in the way a novice, or a kid, might encounter the actual museum. How to sort it out? How to get one’s bearings? How to find Art? In the end, art/Art finds you, of course. And, after a detailed tour of the MoMA collection, the squiggly guy gets the answer to his question. Seen Art? Absolutely.

A handy illustrated appendix at the back of the book identifies each work for you and the encounter is a lighthearted introduction to a world some grown-ups find intimidating. Not the savvy, amused kids who read this witty book. Art’s that guy with the glasses and the finger-in-the-socket hair waiting at the entrance.  Visit MoMa and take Seen Art? with you. Take a kid, too, just to be safe. Look up for the helicopter and check the garden for the goat. 

Seen Art?   Jon Scieszka, Lane Smith | Viking   2005

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