Thumbs Up; Thumbs Down in DC

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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.

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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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Peter Coffin – Art to think about

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Last week I went to about a dozen exhibits and, while I liked some of them, the one show that really got me thinking was Peter Coffin: Here & There at the Hirshhorn.

Coffin’s art covers a lot of ground, both literally and figuratively. Outside is a never-ending spiral staircase that just loops into itself; downstairs is an oversized dog sculpture that takes up an entire gallery; running the length of 2nd floor landing are framed 3-color fade combinations (they were used as poster backgrounds by Colby Poster Printing Co); one room is dedicated to his photos and assemblages and then a separate room offers a cleverly-animated light show projected onto 12 paintings from the museum’s collection.

The installations are scattered throughout the museum and while they don’t seem to relate to each other, the overall effect (on me anyway) was to slow down and think.

My first inclination was to dismiss the work as referential, my second was to think it mundane and then (albeit fun) a bit gimmicky.  After leaving the show though, I can’t help but think that was all by design. When I looked at his work it was easy to draw connections to other artists, but I think that missed the point.

Physical works and materiality are key to an artist’s way of exploring concepts and ideas. I find myself thinking back to each of the installations and about the artist. It’s funny because I am an artist also, and I often joke that I have a million ideas, but unfortunately ideas don’t sell themselves. It’s that execution thing that holds most of us back -well, not Peter Coffin.

When it comes to his larger body of work, it is easy to see that he is prolific. He is smart too – he uses art to engage the senses: sight, sound, feel…believe me, I got to thinking about and so I looked it up, he even uses taste & smell.  Coffin’s work explores art history, social media, and interaction with the environment to challenge perceptions. Colorist, earth artist, performance artist, photographer, sculptor, videographer – he is an artist that uses a full bag of tricks.

I will definitely watch out for what he does next.

Peter Coffin, 2007 (designs for Colby Poster Co) at Hirshhorn

Peter Coffin, 2007 (designs for Colby Poster Co) at Hirshhorn

Peter Coffin at Hirshhorn (rainbow)

Peter Coffin at Hirshhorn (rainbow)

Peter Coffin, 2007 (Spiral Staircase) at Hirshhorn

Peter Coffin, 2007 (Spiral Staircase) at Hirshhorn

Peter Coffin (Dog)

Peter Coffin, 2012 (Dog) at Hirshhorn

Peter Coffin (Unfinished Hand)

Peter Coffin (Unfinished Hand)

Peter Coffin (Orange Pyramid)

Peter Coffin (Orange Pyramid)

Peter Coffin (Koons)

Peter Coffin (Koons)

Peter Coffin (Love)

Peter Coffin (Love)

Peter Coffin (David)

Peter Coffin (David)

Peter Coffin (Pink Cloud)

Peter Coffin (Pink Cloud)

Top 10 in DC – Spring 2013

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I had the opportunity to go DC twice this Spring, and as a result my “Top 10” list is a little long this time around. It was great to get to go on back-to-back trips because some of the museums and galleries were installing shows during one trip or the other. I know I still missed a lot, but saw enough that my head is still spinning.  I tried to check out different parts of the city – Georgetown, Adams Morgan, Kalaroma, the H Street Corridor, Logan Circle, U Street, and of course the National Mall. It was a special treat to get to meet with Christine Neptune, who showed me about 2 dozen gorgeous Wolf Kahn monotypes; with Robert Brown, who showed me a portfolio of Per Kirkeby’s; and with  Andrea Marinkovich, who had a wonderful David Hockney.

Some of my favorites at the Museums:

  1. “Nam June Paik: Global Visionary” at Smithsonian American Art Museum
  2. “Ellsworth Kelly: Colored Paper Images” at the National Gallery
  3. “Albrecht Dürer: Master Drawings, Watercolors, and Prints from the Albertina” at the National Gallery
  4. “Nordic Cool” at the Kennedy Center
  5. “Angels, Demons, and Savages: Pollock, Ossorio & Dubuffet” at the Phillips Collection
  6. “Vanitas!” Jeanne Silverthorne at the Phillips Collection
  7. “Portraiture Now: Drawing on the Edge” at The National Portrait Gallery
  8. “Pump Me Up: DC Subculture of the 1980s” at the Corcoran
  9. “On Common Ground: Dominican Republic & Haiti” at American Museum of the Americas
  10. “Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Art and Design, 1848–1900” at National Gallery of Art

And at the Galleries:

  1. “Nothing Rhymes with Orange” at Project 4
  2. “Gordon Parks: An American Lens” at Adamson Gallery
  3. Robert Longo at Adamson Gallery
  4. Mel Bochner at Robert Brown Gallery
  5. “Gathering Space” by Timothy Thompson at Hamiltonian Gallery
  6. “Concrete Abstract” at Heiner Contemporary
  7. William Whitaker at DCAC
  8. “Narciso Maisterra – Recent Work” at Hillyer Art Space
  9. New Paintings by Kevin H. Adams at Gallery Plan B
  10. “Trash Talk” at the Torpedo Factory
Thomas Muller at Project 4

Thomas Muller at Project 4

Thinker on Rock 1997 Barry Flanagan

Thinker on Rock 1997 Barry Flanagan

Trashtalk by Alex Lockwood

Trashtalk by Alex Lockwood

Ellsworth Kelly colored paper

Ellsworth Kelly colored paper

Timothy Thompson Gathering Space

Timothy Thompson Gathering Space

El Maiz - Edgar Negret, 1996 at Organization of American States
El Maiz – Edgar Negret, 1996 at Organization of American States
Juha Pykäläinen - Elk Towers

Juha Pykäläinen – Elk Towers

She Who Must Be Obeyed - Tony Smith

She Who Must Be Obeyed – Tony Smith

Ai Wei Wei - Packing up the zodiac sculptures

Ai Wei Wei – Packing up the zodiac sculptures

Cool Disco Dan at Corcoran

Cool Disco Dan at Corcoran

Jeanne Silverthorne at Phillips Collection

Jeanne Silverthorne at Phillips Collection

David Hockney - An Imaginary Landscape 1967

David Hockney – An Imaginary Landscape 1967

Mel Bochner - From Floating World, 1990

Mel Bochner – From Floating World, 1990

Nam June Paik at the Smithsonian

I have long been mesmerized by the frenetic visual displays of Nam June Paik’s video installations, but taking a look at the Smithsonian’s current show, “Nam June Paik, Global Visionary” takes it all to another level.  I love seeing retrospectives, and this viewing of his archives, is definitely that – and I do love it!

The thing that I have mentioned with other artists is that it is so helpful to see their work in the context of what was going on in the world at the time. What really sets Paik’s work apart is that he changed the context. He coined the term “Super (Electronic) Highway” 40 years ago and his work foresees the availability of information and unlimited access to media through electronics…at a time when people were still using typewriters, telegrams and postage stamps. His work clearly shows an eye to the editorial – synthesizing historical imagery with news media, cultural commentary and futuristic fantasy in a collage of (at the time) groundbreaking technology.

Check out the show – it is at the Smithsonian American Art Museum through August 11, 2013.

Merce-Digital, 1988

Merce-Digital, 1988

Electronic Superhighway Continental US, Alaska, Hawaii (1995)

Electronic Superhighway Continental US, Alaska, Hawaii (1995)

Megatron/Matrix, 1995

Megatron/Matrix, 1995

TV Buddha (1974)

TV Buddha (1974)

The Lucky Elite

I was reading an old article that Janet Tassel wrote in the Harvard Magazine about the role art museums play in civilization. She goes on a bit in different directions, but ultimately reflects the line of thinking that museums are repositories of collected objects that showcase the greatest achievements throughout the ages. As institutions, they should be be set apart and keep a view to the long arc of history, not the whims of popular society.

In the article, James Cuno (then of the Harvard Museum, now head of the Getty) and Philippe de Montebello (the Metropolitan) both concur that museums are by definition elitist. “That is what art is, and that is what every visitor to the museum is—by crossing the threshhold they are joining the elite.”

This got me to thinking – the other day I went to the Hirshhorn to see Ai Weiwei’s exhibit “According to What?”  I was really looking forward to it and wanted to make sure I took my time and thought about the works and gave each and every installation and object the thoughtful consideration it was due.  Given I might have been a little hungry and going to an exhibit with low blood sugar is not the best, but I found myself distracted and really annoyed by almost everyone around me.

I was put off that no one seemed to treat the show with the same deference that I was giving it. I know it was a holiday weekend and a lot of people were travelling but really…pulling suitcases through the museum?  It seemed to me like the kids were running around – making shadow puppets on the walls of video projections; people were taking calls to arrange travel, to make dinner plans, and who know what kind of sordid engagements. One guy had his skateboard – and the cameras were click, click, clicking….ughhhh!!!

I got to the installation of beautifully crafted chests that are designed so that viewers can look through their various openings and see the phases of the moon. After waiting patiently for my turn to check it out, when I got to the opening my lovable and humorous partner was there smiling through the other side.

He got me to stop a moment, breathe and re-frame my experience.  I could choose to enjoy myself or not and I could choose to be bothered by the crowds or not.  I looked around and actually envied those other people – the kids running around without a care and the adults that didn’t need to give their full attention to the exhibit. How wonderful it is that children are exposed to art and given the opportunity to be themselves around it. All those visitors were living their lives in a setting where art was a part of it.

It occurs to me that a lot of us don’t get that luxury of experience – I didn’t grow up running around inside museums and galleries. For most of us, if we do wind up crossing that ‘threshhold’, we stand in awe of what we’ve been missing.

For those lucky elite, they’re not missing a thing.

Moon Chests – Ai Weiwei with Warren

Antony Gormley at Phillips Collection – Drawing Space

You may be familiar with Gormley’s sculpture; immidiately recognizing his body dissolving into space – blurring the distinction between materials and their surroundings.

This exhibit, of 70 works on paper and two recent sculptures continues that exploration of form in space. It is a beautiful show that fills only 2 salons in the museum, but creates a lingering sense of the engagement we, the viewers, have with our environment.

I am including some of my favorites from the show:

Aperture XIII, 2010 by Antony Gormley @ Phillips Collection

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bodies in Space, Black, 2007 Antony Gormley @ Phillips Collection