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MoMA knows best: a guided tour of the museum

The new Museum of Modern Art can be a daunting and overwhelming place, and the walls are free of explanatory text panels. Fortunately, the museum is rolling out three new versions of an Acoustiguide tour for its permanent collection.

"Modern Voices" is the full monty: a two-and-a half-hour jaunt loosely guided by a kaleidoscope of speakers. Director Glenn Lowry emcees, assorted curators weigh in, and artists dead and alive, explain what they're all about. ("Modern Voices" is available in English, Spanish, French, German, Italian and Japanese.)

Marcel Duchamp, who died in 1968, makes an appearance, taped in 1946, discussing his famous bicycle wheel: "In 1913 I had the happy idea to fasten a bicycle wheel to a kitchen stool and watch it turn. It was around that time that the word Readymade came to my mind to designate this form of manifestation. A point that I very much want to establish is that the choice of these Readymades was never dictated by an aesthetic delectation. The choice was based on visual indifference. A total absence of good or bad taste. In fact, a complete anesthesia."

A second walk-through tape describes the work in detail for the visually impaired, and a third introduces kids to a handful of greatest hits, using a cast of actors, both adults and minors. "Hello, young sorcerer's apprentice!" an actor declaims to introduce Jean Dubuffet's 1954 sculpture "Magician."

"Allow me to introduce myself: I am called 'Magician'. I began my life as a couple of knotted, gnarly, twisted roots. A sculptor's magical imagination transformed me into art! You see, one day in 1954 the artist Jean Dubuffet found some old grapevine roots on the ground in Burgundy, France. One was thick and bumpy, another skinny and spiky. Most people would have looked at these things and seen old, dead wood. But the artist used his imagination, and ... " And art becomes an adventure.

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