Thumbs Up; Thumbs Down in DC

I have written about shows a number of times and indicated “this” is my kind of show or “that” my kind of show.  It’s funny because sometimes I question if everything is my kind of show. The fact is I do have a voracious appetite for all things visual and, yes a lot of different exhibits interest me. The reality is I tend to favor four kinds of shows:

  1. I love retrospectives that showcase the development of an artist AND places their work in context of what is happening, both in the world and in the art scene at the time.
  2. I am drawn to curated exhibits that have something specific to say and then go onto to lay it out for me.
  3. I like those shows that create singular “wow” moments.
  4. I am always ready to see the latest works of individual artists and typically enjoy those exhibits if I actually like the artwork.

I saw two  very different exhibits in DC last week – the first one was a thoughtful primer on the development of videography: Watch This! New Directions in the Art of the Moving Image at SAAM – Just off the 3rd floor elevators on the North side of the building are two spaces dedicated to the exploration of media arts.

On one side of the hallway is the huge Nam June Paik installation of “Electronic Superhighway” (see my April write-up, https://myartlook.com/2013/04/18/nam-june-paik-at-the-smithsonian/) and then on the other side is a gallery with rotating installations.

Currently on view is the 3rd installment of “Watch This!” with 4 videos worth seeing:  John Baldessari, “Six Colorful Inside Jobs” (1977); Bruce Nauman, “Walk with Contrapposto” (1968); Charlemagne Palestine, “Running Outburst” (1975); and Bill Viola, “The Fall into Paradise” (2005).

Created some 37 years apart, all four videos explore time and space: Nauman walks with exaggerated purpose (swinging his hips from side to side) up and down and up and down a narrow, short hallway –the repetitious activity emphasizes the parameters of the space. The Baldessari video shows him painting the inside of a room (walls and floor) six different times; was fascinated with the overhead perspectives that made the room flatten at times – when the perimeter walls and corners were complete, it would look eerily like a vacuous Rothko painting.  Viola’s slow-motion video seemed to toy with space in a different way.  The couple starts out so far away in the video that I almost walked away thinking the computer was rebooting.  As they ascended (or is it descended?) they eventually break the surface of the water. Lastly, Palestine runs from object to object in a largely empty warehouse of a room – the viewer sees what he sees, speeding up and slowing down as he goes.

_______

The second show also tackled the historical context of art – this time as an exploration in responding to an age of destruction: Damage Control: Art and Destruction Since 1950 at the Hirshhorn  – I was pretty excited to see this show: I mean it sounds like the kind of exhibit that is ready to make a hypothesis, gather supporting evidence and then really make a closing argument.  A show like that would have to be well-curated, right? Probably provocative, don’t you think?

At the beginning of the exhibit, the curator’s notes start out okay; they postulate that destruction has historically held significant interest to artists. They go on to describe a heightened reactivity in a nuclear age and then focus on the role that destruction plays in art since the 1950s.

For me, the show begins to break down with the actual exhibit – I sometimes wonder if I think too linearly, but based on the notes, I would have loved to start the exhibit with some historical reference pieces that demonstrated art of destruction throughout the ages. That minor quibble aside, I found it hard to keep focus – some of the artwork was in response to destruction (Harold Edgerton’s “Photography of Nuclear Detonations”), some artwork was destructive in a more semantic way (Ai Weiwei dropping the Han Dynasty urn and Ortiz unmaking a piano) and some was apparently included just for star power (Warhol’s images of an electric chair) The show has a lot of powerful pieces by well-known artists: John Baldessari, Juan Muñoz, Yoko Ono, Robert Rauschenberg, Ed Ruscha, Christopher Wool – some 40 different artists.

Some of the pieces that I especially liked were Raphael Montañez Ortiz piano destruction;  Ori Gerst’s “Big Bang 1”, a video of a vase of flowers exploding;  Yoshitomo Nara’s “No Nukes in a Floating World; and Pipilotto Rist’s video “Ever is Over All.”

John Baldessari, still from Colorful Inside Job, blue to violet, at Hirshhorn

John Baldessari, still from Colorful Inside Job, blue to violet, at Hirshhorn

Bruce Nauman Walk with Contrapposto at Hirshhorn

Bruce Nauman Walk with Contrapposto at Hirshhorn

Jeff Wall, The Destroyed Room at Hirshhorn

Jeff Wall, The Destroyed Room at Hirshhorn

Noshitomo Nara, Delivery Service at Hirshhorn

Noshitomo Nara, Delivery Service at Hirshhorn

Ori Gerst-still image from The Big Bang at the Hirshhorn.jpg

Ori Gerst-still image from The Big Bang at the Hirshhorn.jpg

Pipilotti Rist, still image from The Ever is Over All at the Hirshhorn

Pipilotti Rist, still image from The Ever is Over All at the Hirshhorn

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