Exhibition Inquisition

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

Posts Tagged ‘fountain

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.

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Summer Shows

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Hammer Museum

Oh Hammer Museum, I don’t expect your gallery guards to be able to discuss your art like a curator would, but I do expect them to be able to tell me why I can’t take a picture in certain galleries.  When asked why I could not take a photo of Out of the Box, I was told, “oh well, this is a special exhibition.” Yes it is special…But isn’t this part of your permanent collection?  “Uh no, um it isn’t.”  Actually it IS gallery guard, the works in Out of the Box were recently acquired jointly with LACMA.  When asked why I couldn’t take pictures in Selections From the Hammer Contemporary Collection: “Oh well it’s a special exhibition.” Yes it is special…But the reason why I can’t take photos in here is because some of the works are promised gifts not yet officially part of the collection.  Maybe the Hammer should spend some time educating their gallery guards.

It’s summer! Let’s play in the fountains.

Now let’s discuss the summer shows at the Hammer.  There is an installation by Greg Lynn, Out of the Box (editions of artists’ prints), a selection from the Armand Hammer Collection, and a selection from the Hammer Contemporary Collection.  So that’s three shows/installations of permanent collection works, but I was only allowed to take photos in the Armand Hammer Collection installation. (I didn’t ask if I was allowed to take pictures of the Greg Lynn, it’s out in a public courtyard after all.)

Let’s begin with Greg Lynn’s lovely fountain. LACMA on Fire blog had a fun post about the kitchy work, oh and the blogger doesn’t have a secret identity anymore.  (That blog somehow seemed more fun when it was a secret and when it wasn’t hosted on artinfo.)  The spurting fountain is made from casts of children’s toys and is an apt summer installation.  The work is looking a little dirty though and could use some cleaning, or the Hammer could just dump some bleach into it.

The man himself.

Next up is the installation of works from the Armand Hammer Collection.  Yeah, he’s that guy that founded this museum.  (That’s right LA, Broad isn’t the first collector to found his museum based on his private collection, oh wait, there’s also the Norton Simon, the Huntington, oh and the Getty, well hmmm.) His portrait bust is right there in the room, just like the creepy J. Paul Getty bust in the Brentwood center.  I could swear I’ve seen this room installed this exact way before; do the curators reinstall it the same way every time? So much for enlivening the permanent collection…

Trust me, I’m a doctor.

The gallery is sliced into three sections. The first section has a row of Van Goghs and some other big name impressionists, and some Rembrandts.  Interesting to note that there is no mention of Rembrandt in Southern California, an initiative of several Southern California museums to promote Rembrandts in their collections.  Way to be a team player Hammer Museum.  And of course the striking Singer Sargent portrait of Dr. Pozzi at Home (1881) is hung prominently in the first room, as the first work you see.   Dr. Pozzi was a pretty sexy guy, and a gynecologist!  I learned this fun little fact from the wall label, so yes there is some informative text in this installation.

Why the theatrics?

The next room features a display of works from the museum’s Daumier collection:  some great sketches and a slew of bronze caricature busts of famous Parisians.  This room is a little dark, and I’m unsure why they displayed the busts in this overly theatrical fashion.

Dark or dirty? Titian.

The last room has some smaller impressionist works flung together and hung closely on one wall.  The other works are given a lot of space.  All the big name works from the Armand Hammer Collection (the ones Ann Philbin decided to keep, not the lesser works the Hammer Foundation took back) are here.  A Titian portrait of a man dressed as a soldier looks in need of cleaning, or maybe it’s just significantly darker than a similar work that hangs in the Getty.

Get up close and personal with this Moreau.

Two Gustave Moreau’s hang in the last room next to each other:  Salome Dancing Before Herod (1876) and King David (1878).  These works are absolutely amazing, and you can get up very close to them (the gallery guard didn’t yell at me when I did) to see all the tiny application of bright white paint that Moreau used to achieve his sparkling lighting effect.

Now for the contemporary stuff.  This installation is composed of acquired works (bought with that Da Vinci sketchbook deacquisition money perhaps) and promised gifts.  The intro wall text thanks the Hammer’s “Board of Overseers for annual contributions to the Hammer Contemporary Collection acquisition fund and to several dedicated donors.”  This is the third installation of works from the Contemporary Collection; was the second one Second Nature? No it wasn’t.  The two earlier shows were this and this.

Elliot Hundley, Pentheus (2010), very contemporary.

A lot of the works in the show come from artists who have been shown at the Hammer, whether in monographic shows, in the Hammer Projects series, or in Hammer Invitationals.  No photos from this installation unfortunately, which means you have to go see it for yourself.  I was really impressed by how contemporary most of the works are; many of them made in the last five years, and acquired by the museum soon after they were created.  The Hammer is doing an impressive job at executing its five-year-old initiative to seriously collect contemporary works. Gold star for you Ann Philbin!

The last of the summer shows (that I’m going to discuss) is Out of the Box: Edition Jacob Samuel, 1988-2010.  The collection of prints from the Santa Monica-based EJS studio was jointly acquired by the Hammer and LACMA.  I wonder how this joint ownership works.  (LACMA jointly acquired an El Anatsui work with another UCLA museum, the Fowler, two years ago.)  The list of artists represented in this exhibition is a real who’s-who of the contemporary world; check out the roster below (click to enlarge).

Some of these names may be familiar.

Personally I found the majority of the prints really boring.  A series of prints of the number two was less then inspiring. There were few exceptions, but this whole project of prints seemed very elitist and overly self-congratulating.  The exhibition design was effective but obvious; to clearly separate the projects of each artist a funny paint job had been devised.  Each artist project was demarcated by a band of tan paint that segregated each project from the others.  The earthtone paintjob was only about two feet high, and was immediately recognizable as an organizational strategy.

Obvious organization.

Admittedly I may have been overly critical of the Hammer and its summer shows, but when everyone that works there is so damn smug about themselves I expect the best.  Maybe it’s just a slow summer.  I’m going to admit that prints are hard to make exciting, and to be fair a lot of the work in the Contemporary Collection installation is really fantastic and warrants a long visit.  See, I can be mildly subjective.

Just to make sure you don’t miss any of this great and mediocre stuff here is a rundown of when these shows close:

Greg Lynn: September 26
Armand Hammer Collection: ?
Hammer Contemporary Collection: January 30 (you’ve got a while)
Out of the Box: August 29 (opps you’ve missed it)

– H.I.

Written by exhibitioninquisition

September 6, 2010 at 2:51 PM