Research

Helen Molesworth explains what curators (should) do

The art of hanging pictures, to steal a phrase from Kerry James Marshall, is a bit like the craft of using words to make sentences, which in turn cohere into paragraphs, which accumulate in the service of an idea. It is part didactic instruction, part ineffable feeling about what things work well together. Both rely on the principle that the space between pictures is not neutral, that the pictures themselves are not autonomous (unless they are placed in a way to suggest that), and that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts….

…the arrangement of pictures, to steal another phrase, this time from Louise Lawler, … was also inextricably tied to the primary methodology of art history: that of “compare and contrast.” …the underlying idea was that meaning is built through syntax, that syntax requires difference, and that difference is something to be staged or spatialized or, at the very least, invoked through the act of adjacency.

Too many recent exhibitions have taken their installation cues from art fairs and the like, more prone toward leveling than toward difference, more inclined toward the presentation of opinion than toward the dexterity of argumentation. Is there no way that we can imagine holding on to the productive syntactic function of compare-and-contrast?

Helen Molesworth, review of the Whitney Biennial, Artforum, May 2014.

(HT @forwardretreat)

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Art & Development

Good news for art lovers

I had a revelatory experience looking at squiggles on a wall today.

For the first time, I gained a deep appreciation for Sol Lewitt‘s work. Though I’ve seen a few of his works in person and many in reproduction, the innovation, technique and phenomenological experience did not become reified to me until my visit to Dia:Beacon today.

There are eight rooms dedicated to Lewitt’s early wallworks at the Dia:Beacon in upstate New York. While all the works followed instructions, and often consisted of no more than pencil line on white walls, they resulted in myriad visual experiences. They were immense, immaculately executed, and beautifully situated in one of the best buildings for viewing art that I’ve seen in the US.

The drawings brought to mind ideas about order, grid, variation, geometry, the human hand and authorship. I thought about the attention to detail that the executors brought to their tasks, the roots of our associations between abstractions and whimsy or gravitas, the simplicity of the materials, and the ingeniousness of Lewitt’s efficacy.

The works grounded me at Dia:Beacon. I was flooded with gratitude. I felt lucky to be able to see the works in person in such a lovely setting. I was also grateful to the Dia Foundation for allowing so much space to individual artists. I never saw anything like this in California. This dedication was complimented with a commitment to direct, uninterrupted viewing experiences. Didactic texts were minimal; perfect, indirect sunlight filtered in from the building’s northern windows; guards were sparse, demure, and inconspicuous; and there was plenty of space and peace.

It might seem strange to admit, but standing in a room with only pencil lines and squiggles on a grid, a dopey smile spread across my face. This the quality and scale of the viewing experience and the stellar collection re-energized my excitement about being in New York. At the risk of hyperbole, Dia:Beacon elevated my expectations of what is possible in art.

Also on view are breathtaking “negative sculptures” by Michael Heizer, and many fine examples of Fred Sandback’s yarn installations and Bernd and Hilla Becher’s photographs. I also loved the cool basement full of uningratiating works by Bruce Nauman (including his recent studio-mouse-surveillance videos, complete with shop stools), Louise Lawler’s humorous bird calls-based outdoor sound piece, and a room full of On Kawara’s date paintings. Robert Irwin’s landscape design formed a soothing contemporary art idyll. I didn’t want to leave.

Photographs were not allowed, and in any case, my snaps would not do any justice to Lewitt or Dia. You’ll just have to see it with your own eyes.

Dia:Beacon
Beacon, NY

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