Exhibition Inquisition

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

Posts Tagged ‘Aaron Curry

Alexander Calder and Contemporary Art: Form, Balance, Joy

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Museum of Contemporary Art (Chicago)

This horribly titled MCA show closes later this week, so if you feel inspired to go see it after reading this post, you need to do so ASAP.  The show is presented in two parts divided between to the two whale-ribcage- sized rooms on the entry level floor.  In the first room are works by Calder, and in the second is a presentation of seven contemporary artists inspired by Calder.  The lineup: Martin Boyce, Nathan Carter, Abraham Cruzvillegas, Aaron Curry, Kristi Lippire, Jason Meadows, and Jason Middlebrook.  This show is really two shows.  If you want to make close comparisons (or if you have short-term memory loss problems like I have), you’ll have to run back and forth from room to room.  Some of the inspirations or cues derived from Calder are blatantly obvious, others more nuanced, others waaaay out there.

Calder in a hot topic right now in Chicago.  Flamingo, 1973 is his best known public piece in Chicago.  Recently Calder’s commissioned work The Universe at Willis (aka Sears) Tower has been in the news.  The kinetic sculpture may possible be removed from Willis Towers, as Sears (the original owners) want to get their hot little hands on it.  For you L.A. readers, there is a great Calder public work (also a kinetic sculpture) in Los Angeles; hidden in a corner of the LACMA campus is a huge Calder fountain called Hello Girls.  For most of the year the fountain is dry, but during the hot seasons jets of water propel the huge mobile about languidly.

Back to Chicago, the first room (the Calder Room) looks like a giant moving Miro painting. A kelp forest of whimsical mobiles is hung from the high ceiling on delicate wires, and activated by the sublet air currents in the gallery.  The artificial, diffused lighting is very white- cube-contemporary, and only a few glass vitrines disrupt the unity of the clinical space.  Large (white of course) platforms, which I’m going to call risers, float like islands on the cement floor of the room.  The works cast ever-shifting shadows on the risers and on the walls, but unfortunately the diffused gallery lighting diminishes most of this magical effect.

 

No photography allowed!

 

The show is roughly organized into themes, but with no regard for chronology, which is unimportant really in this show.  One section focuses on Calder’s creative reuse. Bird , (from the MCA’s collection) made from recycled cans illustrates Calder’s choice to leave his raw materials visible.  Another corner is somewhat sectioned off for a group of playful works with animal imagery.

 

Dirty Birdie.

 

A substantial amount of the artwork in this show comes from the MCA’s permanent collection, most donated to the museum by the Horwich Family.  Calder was not from Chicago; Calder’s ties to the city were initially made through the Arts Club of Chicago.  The Horwich’s and other Chicago collectors became introduced to Calder’s work by the private Arts Club, an interesting example of how a private members only club can directly affect (albeit many years down the road) a public art museum.

 

Little Longnose—clever title.

 

This show also has a large amount of works on loan from museums across the country.  The loaners included:  The Whitney, the Sheldon Museum of Art, Harvard Art Museum, and the Museum of Fine Art HoustonThe Stainless Stealer (1966), from the Hirshhorn Museum (a notable work because Calder left it unpainted) hangs in a corner, and is surrounded on the floor by a raised border about four inches thick.  The barrier seems foolish and is so unthreatening it dares you to walk over it. It’s odd the organizers of the show didn’t just put a riser underneath the work, people wouldn’t have stepped on that, or maybe they ran out of money.   Another work from the Hirshhorn, Little Longnose(1959), is the only work not displayed on a riser and its spindly black legs made direct contact with the cement floor.

 

Type of gum.

 

Along another wall is a combination of things I really disliked.  First, laminated cards were offered on unfriendly hooks, for visitors to ID the works hanging before them.  In addition to the lamented sheets wall labels were also provided.  But since a visitor passed between the wall with the labels and the works across the way the labels were intended to identify, all comprehension was really lost.  Big curatorial flaw in my opinion.  I don’t know why they curators didn’t just put the labels directly on the risers underneath the works, as has been done elsewhere in the room.  Despite this mess I was able to glean some fun facts.  I was able to figure out that a monumental work was called Big Red, (1959) and that it had come from the Whitney.  Also, the Broad Foundation really does lend broadworks out all over the country.  They had been kind enough to ship out Laocoon, 1947 and The Brass Gong, 1948.  The Broad Foundation also helped out financially with the show as well as Ruth Horwich (of the above Horwich Family no doubt).

 

Why?

 

The exhibition continued in the next room.  Works by the seven artists were varied, some of the Calder comparisons are mind-numbingly obvious like Aaron Curry’s biomorphic sculptures, and some of them seem very farfetched like Kristi Lippire’s Three Under Parr, 2008, while others felt just right like Nathan Carter’s large three dimensional wire drawing, TRAVELING LANGUAGE MACHINE WITH #3 FREQUENCY DISRUPTOR AND DISINFORMATION NUMBERS STATION, 2007.  Finally the exhibition continues even outside to the MCA’s sculpture garden, where some large loan pieces are displayed.  And yes I touched them; they’re public art after all.

I know I’m not giving the contemporary portion of the show enough attention, but that’s because I don’t care for the framing device of Calder-as-inspiration.  Rather go and view these works as individual pieces, some of them are fantastic, and some far more interesting than Calder (which isn’t that hard to accomplish really).

 

Abraham Cruzvillegas's Bougie du Isthmus, not just a great title.

 

– H.I.

Second Nature: The Valentine-Adelson Collection

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Hammer Museum

Second Nature is a display of a selection of a large gift of contemporary sculpture.  The works were produced from 1995 to the present.  The opening wall text uses several catch-all phrases (my favorite) to describe the collection and the exhibition: “three-dimensional objects” (duh) in a “variety of media.”  So the only think linking these works together is they are all sculpture made in Los Angeles from 1995 onwards. The wall text also explains the importance of the show is being “two fold.”  First is a personal collection vision (important?), and second is a cultural legacy of contemporary Los Angeles sculpture (which is important).

I would like to give credit for the educators of this exhibition for doing the best job they could with the artworks they were working with.  Not every work had an explanative text, but every third work probably did.  Some of the works spoke for themselves, and for the works which did not, the writers did the best they could to make me believe these works were actually interesting.

Pedestal Inquisition: Greely’s “Weaver,” Benson’s “Figure 8” & Ruby Neri’s “Untitled (Lioness)”

Pedestal Inquisition: Greely’s “Weaver,” Benson’s “Figure 8” & Ruby Neri’s “Untitled (Lioness)”

The first room features works of various sizes and mediums, as promised.  What struck me immediately was the various ways of displaying art.  Hannah Greely’s Weaver, was displayed on a very low white pedestal. Next to it was displayed Jonathan Pylypchuk’s Guy Peeing in Heart Plant was displayed hung from the wall, resting on a simple, rough wooden pedestal, which was part of the work.  To add to this assemblage of pedestals were the polished wood of Frank Benson’s Figure 8, and the garish, neon green pedestal on which sat Ruby Neri’s Untitled (Lioness). Both Benson and Neri’s pedestals were part of the artworks. The collection of pedestals was almost distracting, and I focused more on them than I did on the art in the room.

Sculpture not-in-the round: Curry’s “Fragments from a Collective Unity (Standing)”

Sculpture not-in-the round: Curry’s “Fragments from a Collective Unity (Standing)”

Aaron Curry’s Fragments from a Collective Unity (Standing) is also displayed in this first room.  The work is made up of two parts: a tall wooden abstract sculpture and a movie poster set upside-down against a wall.  I have to say I was disappointed with the way the piece was installed; the wooden piece was set too close to the wall so a viewer could not walk around it or appreciate from all angles.

Concert Hall: Johnson, “The Pianist”

Concert Hall: Johnson, “The Pianist”

A nicely displayed work is Matt Johnson’s The Pianist (Designed by Robert J. Lang, and Folded by Matt Johnson). The large work needs a lot of space, as it is impressively large, and the space was given.  It was set alone in an appropriately-sized room allowing a viewer to completely ambulate around the artwork and appreciate all of its blue folded angles, at all angles.

Color-coded room

Color-coded room

A large room features several works by various artists.  All of the works are unified in color scheme: blacks, beige, and some silver.  The works include Evan Holloway’s Dichotic Sculpture, Sterling Ruby’s 2 Stacks of Husbands, Patrick Jackson’s Black and Midnight Blue, Evan Holloway’s Black to Purple, and Nathan Mabry’s A Touching Moment.  The works are nice together because they invite formal comparisons.  This can be done in peaceful, silent contemplation.  At least until Dichotic Sculpture turns on.  When it started making a horrible, vibrating, electric sound I understood what the ugly black cord connecting the artwork to the wall was for.

Plug it in: Holloway, “Dichotic Sculpture”

Plug it in: Holloway, “Dichotic Sculpture”

The normally pleasing sounds of Pachbell’s Canon started ringing off the metal cans and pots inside the speakers of the work.  This elicited the following reaction from my friend: “We learned how to make speakers out of household items in my physics class too” (said with feigned enthusiasm).  The sound was so assaulting on my ears that it made me forget my formal comparisons and I quickly left the room.

Karaoke Machine: Kersels, “MacArthur Park”

Karaoke Machine: Kersels, “MacArthur Park”

I turned my attention to find the source of more noise: the disco music which had been bouncing off the gallery walls since I entered the exhibition.  (This reminded me of my previous visit to MOCA’s galleries were the sound from an artwork permeated through an entire exhibition.)  I found the source of the disco and was disappointed to see it coming out of Martin Kersels’s MacArthur Park.  Regardless of my disappointment, the sound permeating out of its ugly exposed stereo did draw me to it. I was glad to see that this piece was one of the lucky ones; it had an informative wall label.  From the label I learned the piece mixed low and high forms of art (where the high art aspect was I couldn’t identify) and the piece was also a self portrait…

Literacy Test: Craft, “Untitled (Lazy Daze)”

Literacy Test: Craft, “Untitled (Lazy Daze)”

Another work which I felt rightfully deserved space to circumvent it was Liz Craft’s Untitled (Lazy Daze).  Viewers can walk around the piece and see all of the letters in L-A-Z-Y D-A-Z, with the E being chased off by a little creature.  The effort in viewing the work made it briefly amusing, until I was distracted away by the less-then-amazing works displayed elsewhere in the room.

Swept into a corner & Up in a corner: Lapinski, “Nothings of Such and Such a Sort” & Rocklen

Swept into a corner & Up in a corner: Lapinski, “Nothings of Such and Such a Sort” & Rocklen

Lisa Lapinski’s Nothings of Such and Such a Sort was pushed up into a corner like a heap of trash swept up into a pile waiting to be brushed into the dustpan. While at the same time a work by Ry Rocklen was elevated up on high by a video projector aimed at a corner of the ceiling, placed like a forgotten spider web.

Small-Large-XXL: Greely, “Molly and Johnny,” Ruby “Monumental Stalagmite” and Meadows, “Untitled (Picnic Table and Beehive)”

Small-Large-XXL: Greely, “Molly and Johnny,” Ruby “Monumental Stalagmite” and Meadows, “Untitled (Picnic Table and Beehive)”

In the following room was the best installation of work.  It combined small approachable works like Hannah Greely’s Molly and Johnny and Paul Seitsema’s sneakers, with large-scale works like Sterling Ruby’s Monumental Stalagmite and Jason Meadows’ Untitled (Picnic Table and Beehive), and then also combined artworks that invited the viewer to interact such as Mateo Tannatt’s Turkish Kitchen (where the viewer was invited to don headphones) and Chris Finley’s Damn Mosquitos (which kindly requested in the wall text a viewer to use a flashlight illuminate the painting on the interior of a wooden box).  The combination of small intimate objects, with overwhelming large objects, and also with interactive art objects made for an actively installed room.

Touch Me: Finley, “Damn Mosquitos” and Tannatt, “Turkish Kitchen”

Touch Me: Finley, “Damn Mosquitos” and Tannatt, “Turkish Kitchen”

The final artwork that caught my attention was in the last room of the exhibition, it was Paul Sietsema’s Rococo Room.  When you approach the work you don’t know what to expect as all you see is a large black box.  Only after circling around the object (thank you to the curators for allowing this space) do you come to a window in the structure to look through. Inside the unrecognizable structure is a luscious miniature Rococo interior.

All the remodel budget went into the interior: Sietsema, “Rococo Room”

All the remodel budget went into the interior: Sietsema, “Rococo Room”

This work was sticking to me because of its extreme attention to detail: from the tiny gilded stucco work to and the crystal chandelier.  The work reminded me of another work I saw recently at LACMA.  In the recent exhibition Your Bright Future, there is a work called Fallen Star by Do Ho Suh.  These works both have a maniacal attention to detail and it was interesting to me to see that sculpture perhaps concerned with similar ideas was being produced by both Los Angeles artists, and Korean artists.

Echoes across LA: Do Ho Sun, “Fallen Star”

Echoes across LA: Do Ho Suh, “Fallen Star”

Leaving the exhibition I felt I did not have a greater understanding about what contemporary Los Angeles sculpture is all about.  If there was a message, theme or statement about sculpture, I’m not sure it was communicated well.  There is not really a curator’s statement since what is on display was not really of a curators choosing.  Instead the statement made is the collector’s statement.  As acknowledged in the opening wall text the vision is all the about the collector’s taste rather then an informed curator’s vision.

– H.I.