Some highlights from my recent trip to visit museums in London. It seems like there’s never enough time in London, but I hope to make it back for galleries and more fun.
Mark Wallinger Curates The Russian Linesman
Messenger is amazing. The exhibition makes evident how she was influential in the development of installation art. The work highly symbolic and theatrical — “a dreamscene tableaux,” as Claire Bishop might describe it — so it’s not exactly my favorite type of installation art, but I was profoundly moved nonetheless. In particular, I really liked “Articulated/Disarticulated,” (see a photo on Urban Landfill blog) a recent, room-sized installation where stuffed human and animal forms were mechanically tortured. It really captured the essence of her dichotomies — both comical and horrifying, humorous and tragic, magical and corporeal. “Casino” is a giant installation — the most phenomenological of the works on view, I think — and it’s stunning.
Wallinger curated a show that probed perception and thresholds. Artifacts are mixed in with contemporary and historical works. It’s a really perceptive show. Fred Sandback’s space delimitations looked fantastic. I knew that the rectangular outline was comprised purely of black string, not glass or some other solid surface, but I tried to bring myself to interrupt the immaterial plane and I couldn’t. Good stuff.
Wallinger’s also got some of his own work, mixed in with a series of 3-D viewfinders of historical photos. They set a high expectation for excellence for the show, and it doesn’t disappoint.
Rodchenko & Popova
Horn’s work is highly idiosyncratic. I’m still mulling it over — especially the strange groupings of photographs, including the signature weather/model image — but two things immediately stuck. First, of course, I enjoyed “The Opposite of White” dyad — giant, solid cast glass sculptures in transparent glass and opaque black. Two irreconcilable, but true facts: white reflects light, hence its opposite is transparency; or is its opposite that which absorbs light (black)? Second, you have to see Horn’s hermetic, strange drawings. Reproduction doesn’t do them justice. They’re extreme — a pattern is loose and gestural, pencil marks diagrammatic, and cuts and inlays mechanically precise. They’re astounding, quiet feats, really.
Rodchenko & Popova is a major survey of the dynamic output of two pre-Stalinist artists. Paintings, graphic works (pleasingly tight in pen, weirdly wonky in color crayon, of all things), letterpress publications, films, textile design, furniture, posters, 3-D constructions, photographs and did I mention motion graphics?—means that there is loads to look at and appreciate. I really ‘get’ the Constructions in Constructivism now, and formally appreciate the simple compositions of repeated lines and circles. Most of all, I came away with the sense of avant garde fearlessness, as the couple was unafraid to make clean breaks from previous art styles, even their own. They formulated many new platforms and embraced integration and service to the public.
Nicolas Bourriaud curated this triennial of mostly British artists. Bourriaud has coined “Altermodern” to describe an in-progress theory about the globalized, interconnected epoch to follow Postmodernism. He casts the artist as “homo viator, a traveller whose passage through signs and formats reflect a contemporary experience of mobility.” When I turned my gaze from the Tate Britain’s impressive pediment towards the Thames (where it’s easy to recognize the seat of imperial power), I wondered how fully a British art institution could embrace a new, multi-polar, Zakarian world. My skepticism was corroborated, when, in Global Modernities, the coinciding symposium, Walter Mignolo labelled the theory “a Eurocentric critique of Eurocentrism.”
I think altermodern an interesting term, and it may be useful for categorizing some existing themes in art — transitional sites (e.g., Walead Beshty’s FedEx boxes, “transit-specific works” as Galleon Trade colleague Eric Estuar Reyes would put it, see video at the Whitney 2008 Biennial site) and liminal states (Spartacus Chetwynd’s beanbag installation with psychedelic performative video, or Gustav Metzger’s crystal light show — I shit you not). The triennial is sort of, well, triennial-y: giant, well-executed spectacular installations, some big names, and limited thematic connections. Here’s what stood out:
Franz Ackermann posits what seems to be a critique of immigration and national identity. (Pics on ArtNet.)
Darren Almond delivers surprising, stunning photographs as usual.
Peter Coffin‘s staged projection- and installation-based museum exhibition, where photos and videos are projected on works from museum collections, e.g., bees on a painting by Joseph Albers. A virulent strain of MJT uncanny.
Navin Rawanchaikul‘s hand-painted Indian-style movie billboard is a riot; the accompanying documentary video of interviews of Indians who’ve relocated to Thailand seems pedestrian and conventional by comparison.
Bob and Roberta Smith create a “junk space” (as identified by Irit Rogoff, the consequences of global modernity) littered with disused stuff and the characteristically ironically upbeat-but-sad-sack enamel signs. One, “I wish I could have voted for Barack Obama,” (pic on ArtNet) is paired with a colorful plastic tricycle, highlighting the wishful thoughts of Britons. Smith pointed out that the exhibition is meant to be interrogative, but I think it’s pretty cool to have an explicitly didactic space within it via his signs. Extra points to Mr. Smith for avoiding the common UK mispronunciation of Barack (“BER-rick,” as opposed to “Buh-RAWK).
Simon Starling illustrates his brilliant reduction of forms with a series of desks commissioned by emailing low-resolution photographs to furniture makers. There’s more to it, of course, having to do with Francis Bacon and others, but the gesture is pure poetry.
Brilliant, easy, scenic, affordable. You know, art institutions usually have short hours, so minimized travel during open hours is appreciated. Also, “Tate-to-Tate” is a nice sounding phrase, like a mirror, and also reminds me of the 1980s TV show, “Hart to Hart.”
Reconnecting with Mediha
As an existentialist, I tend to agonize about my art/legacy/life becoming fodder for “the dustbin of history,” so it was surprising to hear the ever-optimistic M.D. say: “The great thing about history is that things disappear” in regards to the dominating influence of Conceptualism and Minimalism in contemporary art today.