Art Vent Letting the Fresh Air In
|Photo: courtesy MoMA.|
7' 4" x 6' 4 3/4" (223.4 x 194.4 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Sidney and Harriet Janis Collection Fund, 1982
© 2011 The Willem de Kooning Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
|Photo: Carol Diehl, 2011|
I’ve been a fan of Cardiff's ever since the percussive piece she and George Bures Miller installed in 2006 at Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary, which gets my all-time favorite award for site-specific art (read my review here). Happily The Forty-Part Motet lived up to my expectations—was exalted and exhalting. I could have just as easily been in Canterbury Cathedral during Evensong, but there’s also something about the anonymity of the experience that makes it surprisingly personal. While I was there, two young women were inspired to dance, but attempting to photograph them (with their permission), I was sharply remonstrated by the guard—an action that was jarring and surprisingly upsetting in the way it pierced a euphoric moment. Something like that would never have happened in Europe, I thought, especially in England where museum attendants can be sensitive to the point of being apologetic. So I left the room and came back again later when—with the exception of a different guard who lurked quietly in the corner, absorbed in his cell phone—I was able to listen to the whole thing again, this time completely alone.
|Photo: Carol Diehl, 2011.|
|Photo: courtesy MoMA, PS 1|
I also didn’t get William Kentridge—but only because I hadn’t yet seen the MoMA retrospective, having been put off by the overwhelming hype (he’s definitely the artist of the year) which is not a good excuse. I left awed, especially by the miniature theater representation. I’m still kicking myself for not seeing “The Nose” (I hated the name—have got to revise my attitude), which my smarter friends told me was an amazing theatre experience. Sometimes things are famous for a reason.
Next was the Whitney Biennial, which has to be the blandest yet. After the bustling scene at MoMA, the Whitney seemed tired, wan, past its prime (there was a time when it was the other way around). Yes, there was a desultory queue to get in—it was Good Friday after all—but the galleries themselves were hardly crowded, the visitors wandering around with a “Why am I here?” look on their faces. I am, however, pleased to report that the video has been installed in such a way that it doesn’t distract from the static pieces and, unlike previously, I can’t have fun with the publicity material: this year the descriptions of art and artists are sensible, even readable. There’s no blurb for Charles Ray, however—did he request that there not be one, or have they just not gotten around to it?
I also went to the National Academy Museum’s annual invitational exhibition, and am beginning to feel that the whole survey show concept is so last century (or maybe the one before that—this is the 185th for the NAM). Perhaps the “Biennial problem,” its loss of relevance with each permutation, has not only to do with the Whitney’s choices, but that if one is seeking a true art experience, any exhibition where the work isn’t related through some over-arching theme feels increasingly like a waste of time.
The Biennial is the subject of David Cohen’s usually perky Review Panel on April 23rd, and I’m curious to see if three interesting critics (Roberta Smith, Christian Viveros-Faune, and
Svetlana Alpers) can be interesting enough to make the subject of uninteresting art interesting.
Each of Marina Abramović’s performances is an exercise that brings her to a more realized place, a stepping stone to becoming the person she is, the woman whose great personal presence dominates the Atrium at MoMA even though she’s just sitting there in silence. It is to her credit that this performance (and I believe all of her performances) cannot be successfully replicated; she embodies her work.
Nowhere was this more clear than when an artist sent me a picture of herself, dressed as Abramović and sitting across from her, which she apparently did for an entire day, calling it an “intervention.” Next to Abramović, the copy-cat artist looks like a rag doll [don’t let me go off too much, but that endeavor smacked of the over-indulgence of art school, where “commenting” on art is often allowed to serve as art, no doubt because doing something original is just too hard]. In the same way, actors in bio-pics, no matter how accomplished, are rarely able to convey fully the power of the personalities they are portraying.
I’m curious to know what others’ experience is with the Abramović exhibition. Do you think “re-preformance” works?
Olafur Eliasson, The Weather Project, 2004, Tate Modern, London
The Museum of Modern Art presents Marina Abramović: The Artist Is Present, the first U.S. large-scale museum retrospective of the artist’s groundbreaking performance work, from March 14 to May 31, 2010. Internationally recognized as a pioneer and key figure in performance art, Marina Abramović (Yugoslav, b. 1946) uses her own body as subject, object, and medium, exploring the physical and mental limits of her being by creating pieces that require her to withstand pain, exhaustion, and discomfort in the quest for artistic, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual transformation….
Abramović, best known for her durational works, has created a new work for this retrospective—The Artist Is Present (2010)—that she will perform daily throughout the run of the exhibition. For her longest solo piece to date, Abramović will sit in silence at a table in the Museum’s Donald B. and Catherine C. Marron Atrium during public hours, passively inviting visitors to take the seat across from her for as long as they choose within the timeframe of the Museum’s hours of operation. Although she will not respond verbally, participation by Museum visitors completes the piece and allows them to have a personal experience with the artist and the artwork.
I wasn’t quick enough to get my bid in to write about Abramović for the art magazines; indeed, until I attended the press preview at MoMA last week, I didn’t realize how profoundly I related to her work. I’ve done many things in my life involving ritual, meditation, a certain amount of endurance (the only English phrase my Chinese t’ai chi master seemed to know was “hold for one minute”) and even danger (studying karate at a dojo with a policy of admitting everyone, even those with “problems,’ because that’s who’s out there on the street, in life)—experiences that offer me a glimpse into Abramović’s practice.
But just a glimpse. Because no matter how rigorous my practices have been, they don’t add up to anything like Abramović’s project. The press release doesn’t mention that Abramović is committed to also remaining silent during her “off” hours, but that would seem a necessary component, as she will be taking in a lot.
I think about an exercise I did once as part of a personal growth workshop which required standing just a little too close and silently staring into the eyes of another member of the group of 150, chosen at random, for ten minutes. During the workshop I’d been sitting next to a man in his 50s, whose conversation indicated that he was very much in love with his wife—who I’d only seen from afar, but seemed hardly the type to inspire such ardor. It turned out she was my partner, and after looking into her eyes for ten minutes, I was in love with her too. Following the exercise we went back to our seats, but my first thought upon leaving the room was that I wanted to give her a hug, an impulse that turned out to be mutual.
In the same vein I sat in on a workshop that Betty Edwards (Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain) gave, watching as adults went from drawing stick figures to lively, acutely representational portraits within just a few days. One of the exercises involved drawing another person, again chosen at random from the group. In the ladies room later I overheard a conversation where one participant was saying to another, “She’s not the sort of person I ever thought I’d be friends with, but after drawing her for so long, I found I really liked her and we made plans to have lunch.”
I think too of my friend Tim, a singer at the Met who, instructed by a doctor not to speak for three days, said he saw a lot of pain in people’s faces he hadn’t been aware of before.
What will Abramović see? Perhaps just a bunch of people taking pictures (I don’t yet know what MoMA’s policy will be). New Yorkers aren’t great at sitting still—or being quiet. Maybe they’ll come to confess. Whatever happens, Abramović will be changed by the experience, and it will have a profound influence on whatever she does next.
This would appear to be what Roberta Smith was calling for when she wrote (in her much-discussed article “Post Minimal to the Max”) that she wanted to see more “art that seems made by one person out of intense personal necessity, often by hand.”--only in the case of Abramović it’s not the hand but the entire body.
This is art that comes from process, from doing, rather than thinking.
By contrast Tino Sehgal’s piece of interactive theater at the Guggenheim (see Holland Cotter’s favorable Times review) seems to spring from the head, an idea illustrated. The people who ask you questions as you ascend the ramp aren’t actors, but neither are they real people acting on their own impulses. Like the commenter on this blog, Kathy Hodge, who said, “I don’t want to be forced to interact with anyone for their own ‘social experiment,’” I don’t want to give thought to answers that will go nowhere—so I avoid as I do the television news people on the street corner who don’t really care about my opinion either. In both cases I feel as if I’m being used.
With Abramović, however, we meet on our own terms.
If, after the Orozco show, you want to indulge your senses in a retrograde manner, hop on over to the same place we first saw those Dannon lids, the Marian Goodman Gallery, and wallow in Gerhard Richter’s gorgeous scraped abstractions, up through January 9th.
What I wrote below sounded so negative, I wanted to amend it. I don’t want to discount Orozco because, while I find his much of his “conceptual” work tedious, I’m completely inspired by his drawings, small paintings, and collages. It’s just that these are regarded as ephemera rather than the real deal, when I think they are the real deal. Again, this isn’t an argument for painting and drawing over conceptual art, but for Orozco’s painting and drawing over his conceptual art, much of which, for me, falls into a genre Jerry Saltz has written about and Roberta Smith has aptly coined “Curator's Art” (whether or not they’d include Orozco, I don’t know). Asked about the Urs Fischer survey in the comments to the post below, while I find some of his work intriguing, Fischer lost my respect with the hole in the wall that, when you get too close, sticks a tongue out at you. In my book, not only is it just too easy, it sends the same message as Orozco’s shoebox: that museum visitors are idiots and deserve to be treated as such.
To show how undervalued (I'm not talking money here) Orozco’s graphic work is, I can’t even find examples on the Web of the pieces I love best. The overused image above will have to do.