Exhibition Inquisition

The stuff you look at, but don't see.

Joseph Beuys: The Multiples

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Los Angeles County Museum of Art

In case you forgot...

In case you forgot...

Continuing their hold of the top floor of LACMA’s BCAM, the Broad Art Foundation presents Joseph Beuys: The Multiples.  A collection of 570 multiples (from 1963-1986) fills the east galleries on the upper-most floor of the citadel for contemporary art. Since the second floor is now a venue for temporary exhibition, it seems the Broad Art Foundation is especially concerned with maintaining their stronghold on the top floor, and since it has been more than a year and a half since BCAM opened, its about time that a new installation of Broadwork was rotated in (at least to half of the floor).

Entry / Image of the artist

Entry / Image of the artist

Up the spider (the red, exterior escalator), and in through the colossal glass doors of the building…The first thing one sees is the Barbara Kruger freight elevator.  To the right are galleries with more Broadworks, Warhols and Koons, and only one Baldessari left.  But to the other direction, to the left, is the exhibition of Beuys multiples.

The first thing one sees is a rack with catalogs of the works in the exhibition.  Honestly, to be up front about it, I think that looking through this nicely designed little book would be more interesting and manageable than this overwhelming exhibition.  And then, Beuys confronts the viewer: an image of Beuys (on of the multiples in the show) is blown up and covers the entire wall leading into the exhibition. The title of the installation is superimposed on this large graphic.  Yes this is an installation and not an exhibition, LACMA has made the distinction. What qualifications make something an installation instead of an exhibition are unclear.

The exhibition installation, was contained in six rooms, which are defined by the pre-existing walls.  The plain white walls from which previously hung Rauschenbergs and Johns have now been painted a very, very dreary shade of grey.  The color is oddly familiar, was it the same color used in LACMA’s Art of the Two Germanys exhibition, those crude metal display cases certainly look familiar from Two Germanys as well.

Diagram, thank you Microsoft paint

Diagram, thank you Microsoft paint

The introductory wall text explains several thing, it explains what a multiple is, and the history of multiples including Marcel Duchamp and his Boite-en-valise.  Then came the rationale behind the organization of all those multiples, as well as some not-so-subtle bragging:

This presentation of the nearly complete set of Beuys’s multiples from the Broad Art Foundation is organized thematically within six rooms. The topics explored include Myth, Fluxus, teaching, environmentalism, political activism and the holocaust, and Beuys in America.

Each of the six rooms came complete with a title in white, an educational paragraph, and weirdly integrated quotes. The format was very thorough. And through all of the piles and masses of multiples, I looked always first for the paragraphs, to get some guiding hand through the many, many, many multiples.  (Do you get the point that there are a lot of multiples?)

MYTH: the paragraph addresses the mythology Beuys created around himself, that he was a pilot in the German air force during WWII and was shot down over Crimea, and then was nursed back to health by the Tartars. Well that was educational.  There was a LOT of stuff. Cases and cases, cases against the walls, lots of stuff hung from the walls, a long case (set on hobby horses) aligned along the hypotenuse of the room to allow for eve more stuff to be cluttered into the room.  There was so much stuff, that really it was the odd piece that stood out.  One such piece was Sled 1699, (which had its own descriptive wall text).  The work was set on a short platform that required some very flattering squatting for closer inspection, and was surrounded by black tape so I wouldn’t squat too close.

Room with a view of Fluxus

Room with a view of Fluxus

FLUXUS and PERFORMANCE: This room had the same format of title and wall text.  The quote that was integrated in: “Actions, Happenings and Fluxus will of course release new impulses which will, we hope, create better relationships in more areas”—a vague quotation.  In this room were also display cases, posters, artifacts of performance art, photographs documenting performances. A major difference from the last room was the tiny video monitor set into a short little pilaster-like architectural element.  Some simple dark wood chairs were set in front of monitor; you had to sit close to really see the video.

Stuff, stuff, lots of stuff own by the Broad Art Foundation

Stuff, stuff, lots of stuff own by the Broad Art Foundation

ENVIRONMENT: If I thought the previous two rooms were crowded, I had no idea what was to come.  The Environment room was the most crowded room, absolutely stuff-full of things. There was very little blank space on the walls, there were so many things hung from the walls that it necessitated a completely separate diagram labeling all of the works.  Some multiples from the same sets hung together, sometimes in rows, sometimes not.  In this room were more of the wooden chairs (no video) just to take in part of the gallery. This room was hung like a Parisian salon; frames rubbing up against one each other.  The work that separated itself from the rest was Hare Stone (1982, Basalt with gold spraypaint), again this piece was displayed on a short platform, but this time was partitioned off with metal wire fence (saw it in the Your Bright Future Show).

Between a rock and a hardplace

Between a rock and a hardplace

TEACHING in the F.U.I.: This was the sparsest room, seemed nicely relaxing on the eyes, especially after the environment room.  This room was nicely packed in, instead of cramped, there was an ease of the packed-in-ness that did not exist in the environment room.

My obsession with seating, some wood chairs

My obsession with seating, some wood chairs

POLITICAL ACTIVISM & The HOLOCAUST: more posters, more cases, more photos, same medium, slightly different subject matter.  The thing that set this room apart was the almost feature on Braunkreuz.  In the 1960s Beuys created this material called Braunkreuz, an opaque reddish-brown medium of paint mixed with other materials. Beuys marks his objects with crosses that allude to the steel cross, reclaiming symbols of Germany and Nazism.  See, I learned so much from the paragraph in that room.  Another video monitor and chairs were in this room in the same configuration as in the Fluxus room.  There was a lot of education in this room, which was really necessary for this exhibition.

I had no idea how high the ceilings were

I had no idea how high the ceilings were

BEUYS in AMERICA:  this room had an ease in the cramped quality of the space as well.  This might have been because the objects hung from the walls utilized the height of the wall: some things high and some things low.  A big banner was one thing displayed awkwardly up on high (like that one photograph in the Collecting History show at MOCA). In this final room was also a wall text likening Beuys to Yves Klein (French) and Warhol (American), claiming all of these artists created a artist-celebrity personality.  This is a nice attempt to create a continuous flow into the corridor which leads to the west-side of the top floor of BCAM.

In the hallway are some photos and objects, displayed in a tall case, from a collaborative project between Beuys and Warhol, but no information in provided, how frustrating. A continual comparison was made between Beuys and Warhol, and then also to Koons.  Two TV monitors with seating, two bookshelves full of books, and more upholstered chairs and a comfy couch created an odd domestic-like space in the cold sterile setting of BCAM.  Continuing with the usage of quotes, the curators include one quote each from Beuys, Warhol and Koons.

At home with Beuys, Warhol and Koons

At home with Beuys, Warhol and Koons

The west gallery on the top floor had been changed from its inaugural form, but only slightly altered and is still full of Broadworks. One wall was removed, which effectively eliminated the space that had previously displayed Baldessari, and now there is only one Baldessari left, on the wall which remains oddly alone in the space. The Koons had been spread out to fill the space. The space behind the lone wall is still only for Warhol: some works have been removed and tons more Kelloggs boxes have added, huge piles of boxes actually, created mountains of faux-cardboard containers.

It is great to see contemporary art in a space that was constructed to showcase exactly that.  The Beuys installation is a fitting example of post war German art because of its nice connection to the Art of the Two Germanys show.  But it also seemed like the installation was a way for the Broad Art Foundation to maintain its claim the top floor of BCAM as exclusive space to display their art. Also the wording of the text seemed to not-so-subtly brag about their near complete collection of Beuys’s multiples.

Some lovely "Urban Light"

Some lovely "Urban Light"

It was also exciting to see LACMA at night, especially the space of BCAM, which is lit so different at night, it really is a must see. Especially when you get to scamper, swing, dance through my favorite public artwork in Los Angeles, Urban Light.

– H.I.

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One Response

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  1. Well you’ve definitely put that sass in your step when it comes to blogging. Love it!

    forthecult

    October 19, 2009 at 7:06 AM


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