Exhibition Inquisition

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

Posts Tagged ‘sculpture

Richard Serra, “Sequence”

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SFMOMA, Cantor Arts Center, LACMA

This week, SFMOMA released additional renderings of its eminent expansion including new views of the interior.  Snohetta (the chic, Norwegian architects) and SFMOMA haven’t been apologetic or really skirted the issue about plans to basically gut the entire existing building, keeping only Mario Botta’s  postmodern façade.  Climbing SFMOMA’s imposing stairs is literally my first memory of being in a museum.  As a kid, I tried to recreate the alternating bands of polished and flame-finished black granite of these stairs with a set of sleek dominoes on my living room floor.   A friend and I lamented the demise of Botta’s staircase the last time we visited SFMOMA and we brainstormed potential artist projects that might utilize the soon-to-be-dismantled stairs.  (The SFMOMA expansion is going to be LEED Certified so maybe some of the black stone will be reclaimed.)

Sequence at SFMOMA of the future.

“Sequence” at SFMOMA of the future.

Alas, the released images show all of this will be eliminated in the expansion, sacrificed for the sake of greater street presence and improved openness to pedestrian traffic flow.  (The $555 million expansion will also double the current amount of gallery space, so there is that.)  New public space includes a multi-storied, glass-fronted gallery open to Howard Street.  In the renderings, this gallery space is filled with a massive Richard Serra corten-steel sculpture.  This isn’t just a filler “scalie” artwork; Serra’s Sequence (2006) will be installed in the new space when the Snohetta expansion opens in 2016.  Sequence is part of the Fisher collection, the donors who generous donated many buckets of ducats for the expansion, and who are kinda-sorta donating their incomparable trove of contemporary art to the museum.

Sequence on Howard Street.

“Sequence” on Howard Street.

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Cult Statue of a Goddess (aka Aidone Aphrodite, aka Venus of Morgantina)

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Restitution Issue: J. Paul Getty Museum

Sure LA is hot right now with contemporary art, but some of its older holdings are getting a lot of press.  I’ve decided to take a minor tangent from exhibition critique and do a series of posts on issues of restitution in major LA institutions.  Some of these issues have been resolved, some are still being disputed, and some aren’t even creating waves (at the moment at least).

Now you see her, now you see something else.

At the end of 2010, a small party was held at the Getty Villa in Malibu.  This event wasn’t exactly a celebration; it was a farewell party.  The Getty finally had to say goodbye to the now infamous Cult Statue of a Goddess.  The larger-than-life-sized acrolithic sculpture had dominated the “Gods and Goddesses” room of the Getty Villa as long as I can remember.  Even though I knew she’d be gone by the time I got back to LA, I still wasn’t prepared to miss her so much.  In her place the Getty has placed the Mazarin Venus, a smaller and less-clothed sculpture.  While she is pretty, she doesn’t anchor the room quite like Cult Statue of a Goddess did.  This may just be my biased opinion, but the Mazarin Venus just isn’t as demanding a presence.  This will probably be a temporary issue; according to an LA Times piece: “Karol Wight, the Getty’s chief antiquities curator, said Zeus will be promoted to top star of the “Gods and Goddesses” gallery where the cult statue holds sway. Plans call for reconfiguring the room.”

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Beauty and Power: Renaissance & Baroque Sculpture from the Peter Marino Collection

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Huntington Library

One of my goals for the New Year is to write blog posts in a timelier manner; like attempt to write about shows before they close.  That being said, I have one more post on an LA exhibition that has already closed.  Opps.

Christopher Knight was critical of the show, mostly because it’s a collector’s show.  Regardless of the quality, or significance of the works in the show (the Huntington proclaimed the collection is, “one of the finest private collections of French and Italian bronze sculptures”), the education that supplemented the show justified it completely in my mind.  The Huntington’s decision to host this traveling show fits its own collections and programming.  Several Huntington bronzes and a whole room of books from the library supplemented the show.

Let’s talk about this.

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I Went to Confirm What I Already Feared

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Field Museum

Let’s teach kids about the circle of life!

I felt the need to be a responsible journalist blogger and actually check this place out.  I’m not going to bash a museum for using sponsors (check previous post), but the Field Museum has struck me as a strange place since I came to Chicago.  As a natural history museum I’m unsure as to why they organize pay to have exhibitions about  pirates, mythical creatures, and Jacky O.  The mission of the Field Museum (courtesy of the Field’s website):

The Field Museum is an educational institution concerned with the diversity and relationships in nature and among cultures. It provides collection-based research and learning for greater public understanding and appreciation of the world in which we live. Its collections, public learning programs, and research are inseparably linked to serve a diverse public of varied ages, backgrounds and knowledge.”

Nowhere in this mission statement is the word exhibition mentioned; so why does the Field pay so much for these questionable shows?  One argument is that it gets people in the door and that the museum benefits financially from admissions from these shows.  But when admission fees don’t even cover the cost of the crap plastic unicorn, I begin to question the Field, and whether it is actually upholding its mission.

Gold is not free.

The pricey cost of admission was a major factor for why I chose to go on a Free Day.  Museums in Chicago are required by law to have offer 52 free days (12 of which are sponsored by Target), so I decided to take advantage of what the Field is required by law to do.  It’s hard as hell to figure out when these days are because the Field (shockingly) does not advertise them, but I finally found the free days on their webpage.  Also, general admission is free on these days; so don’t expect to be seeing pirates, dragons, or Gold, for free.  If you want to see the special exhibitions you have to pay.

So I didn’t get to see Gold (I kept saying “GOLD!” very dramatically all day long), but there are literally acres of other things to see in the Field Museum, and not just rocks and stuffed animals, although there is a lot of that too.

Holiday decorations—I was surprised they hadn’t put a Santa hat on Sue.

The first thing I saw was Sue.  She’s a T.Rex and she has a twitter.  The Field Museum paid major buckets of ducats to get her, and has since made a pretty penny off of her, from tours to insane merchandise (there is HelloKitty Sue merch). Sue is effing huge, and overshadows the adjacent warring African bull elephant tableau.

It’s hard to know where to begin in the Field, but my friends and I started with the Egyptian tomb which led into the Hall of African Mammals.  The Field museum rationalized this organization because, “Did you know, Egypt is in Africa?” For real there is a text panel that says this.  The rooms of stuffed animals were fun, I love stuffed animals.  Yes, this is a musty natural history museum tradition, but it’s also well loved.  The Field has also put showrooms full of couches all over the place, so if you get tired you can take a load off and watch the baby orangutans play, it’s almost like TV!—except they don’t move.   It’s not all fun and games though, there are some disturbing things happening with the stuffed animals.

This panda is dead, he is stuffed, and he had a name.

For example, there is this taxidermied panda, and we all know how I feel about pandas…and this panda has a name, Sue Lin. I didn’t like that this panda had a name, didn’t like that the label told the story of Sue Lin’s life in a zoo, then Sue Lin died, then Sue Lin was stuffed and put on display in the Field.  Call me crazy, but this is just too personal.

There is also some less disturbing stuff, like the short-beaked echidna.  There are these text panels around the museum that offer facts about the history of the museum, and one of them informed me that the display of Australian marsupials contains some of the original animals from the World’s Columbian Exhibition. The short-beaked echidna has an acquisition number 3. How cool is that!

Entrance to the less-civilized world of Pre-Columbian civilizations

I like to compare how displays of the same kinds of objects from Pre-Columbian cultures are displayed in natural history museums, compared to how they are presented in fine art museums.  LA’s Natural History Museum has a Visible Vault which contains the leftovers of the collection LACMA took when it succeeded.  The Visible Vault couldn’t be more different from LACMA’s Jorge Pardo designed display.  The Field’s Pre-Columbian display is massive and overwhelming, but has several elements that really shine. Like a video that explains through a fictionalized culture the pillars of civilization (faith, military, and money).   The entrance to this display is overly dramatic though; you enter through a curving hallway full of projections of a swamp and with audio of claps of thunder.  How does this mediation preface the information that follows?

OMG Shoes!

Back outside in the main hallway is a floor to ceiling display of shoes, just shoes.  The idea is to show that there are some things that unite all people across all of time.  One of the fundamental elements of the human condition is apparently stylish footwear.  From ancient Egyptian sandals, to Eskimo snow shoes, to ugly bridesmaid heels, to gogo boots, people love them their shoes.

There is a lot to see at the Field, so I can’t really cover it all in one post.  I didn’t even get to cover the Grainger Hall of Gems, the Hall of Jade, the rooms full of American Indian costumes, or the spooky high-ceilinged halls full of Alaskan totem poles.  There are also a lot more things to criticize believe me, but those too probably need another post.

“Research” scrutinizing the temporary exhibition halls.

One last fun thing for this post: There are two drastically different sets of sculptures in the Field.  The first set is actually part of the architecture of the museum.  In the main hall, up above on the second story, in each of the four corners, is a personification.  These four women, called the “Silent Guardians” were commissioned by the museum in 1915, from the artist Henry Hering.  The one pictured above holds a magnifying glass and represents Research.  The other silent guardians represent Record, Dissemination of Knowledge, and Science.  These four ladies are supposed to be representative of the museum’s mission…oh the mission again.

Can you find this sculpture’s erogenous zones?

The other set of sculptures aren’t a bunch of white broads in flowing togas.  The other series of sculptures are bronze ethnographic (read racist) depictions of “primitive peoples” created by Malvina Hoffman.  There is no sign explaining the original purpose of these works, nor anything apologetic. The only sign accompanying these horrid bronzes reads as follows: “Look all you want, but please don’t touch this sculpture.”  A brief glance at the sculptures reveals people don’t give a shit about these signs and are rubbing them a lot.  The bronzes have a dark patina, except in certain places were excessive touching has worn down to reveal the metallic layers beneath.  The sculpture of a female pygmy from Madagascar has clearly been getting a lot of action; her nipples are practically blinding they’ve been rubbed so much.

– H.I.

P.S. Did you know that a group of porcupine is called a PRICKLE of porcupine?—See, this blog can actually be educational sometimes.

This guy also inspired my current haircut.

Richard Hawkins – Third Mind

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Art Institute of Chicago

Gay desire isn’t just about pretty boys.

We haven’t posted in forever; we’re going to make it up to you with a gay show! Everyone is slapping the National Portrait Gallery’s ass for being oh-so-brave for tackling the controversial topic of gay desire in American art. Because no one has dared go gay lately.  Oh wait, yes they have, here, here, and here.  And that’s just at one museum East Coasters.  Museums in the middle of the country have gone gay too; here in Chicago, Richard Hawkins – Third Mind is currently on view at the Art Institute.

This is what we gleaned from the intro walltext:   The Andy Warhol Foundation awarded a grant for this show, which is a not-so-unobvious clue that this show is going to be gay gay gay.  Third Mind, is Hawkins’s first museum survey, but NOT A RETROSPECTIVE, he’s a mid-career artist and isn’t going anywhere so let’s make that clear.   According to the text, the subtitle (Third Mind) “serves as a testament to the duplicity and ambiguity that characterizes his work,” but is probably more a play on this.  I don’t know if Hawkins work is as duplicitous and ambiguous as the curators are claiming; to me it’s not that unclear…more on that later.  Also the organization of the show is addressed:

Due to the decidedly circuitous nature of Hawkins’s art, linear chronology alone is an insufficient mode of presentation. Thus, this exhibition is laid out in a sequence of ‘rooms’ made up of visual and thematic comparisons that provide just one of many possible bases for comprehending and appreciating the complexities of Hawkins’s practice within the larger historical context provided by the encyclopedic setting of the Art Institute.

What a revelation!—Not. I love it when museums explain themselves, but here there doesn’t really seem to be anything to explain; the curators grouped works from various series of Hawkins work together, aaaand done.

From this first grouping of works (a collage series from 2000) two things are very clear: one, Hawkins excels in collages (paintings not so much, and sculptures sometimes). Two, the majority of people who love to buy Hawkins are from New York, Miami (not a shocker), LA (not shocking), and also Chicago, since apparently someone has been on a spending spree on behalf of the Art Institute.

Bottom - Urbis-Paganus-IV.9.1, (2009)

The next series of collages is funny as hell, and pretty gay.  The series combines various cutouts of Greek and Roman sculptures with texts praising this or that dick or ass of the sculptures.  Hawkins has no problem pointing out which Greek derriere he prefers most; his sassy comments on men’s physiques are the definition of being a bitchy gay.  Take that National Portrait Gallery with your “codified” signs of homosexual desire.

Zombies are the new vampires – Disembodies Zombie Head(s) (1997)

In the next room are several more series.  The Hawkins work I knew previously is the Disembodied Zombie Heads series.  Look here’s one from a MOCA show, how considerate of MOCA to lend it.  And if one Disembodied Zombie Head weren’t enough, and if three Disembodied Zombie Heads weren’t enough (the Hammer loaned not one, but two), the Art Institute has gathered six total (the other three come from LA too).  I think six Disembodied Zombie Heads is just overkill (but zombies are hot in Hollywood right now).

Some newly acquired Hawkins sculptures.

Several sculptures are scattered earlier on in the show, but the last room is mostly devoted to them.  House of Mad Professor (2008) from the Hammer, Crepuscule #1 & #3(1994), Dilapidarian Tower, (2010) and some other haunted houses litter the space.  The sculptures are engaging, mostly because they have elements of Hawkins’s collage practice in them.  And don’t forget, this show continues in Gallery 291…

If you want to see some of Hawkins’s paintings you have to go to the other side of the Modern Wing, up a flight of stairs, and navigate to the correct room.  It seems like the curators were trying to hide Hawkins paintings, and personally I think it’s because these paintings aren’t Hawkins’s best work. Organizing the exhibition with this divide only makes this fact more obvious to me.   (Apparently they do sell; they’re still listed on Hawkins’s LA gallery’s website.)   Had the curators chosen only 10 butt sculpture collages, and only three zombie heads, maybe there would have been room to put Hawkins’s paintings in with the rest of the show.

Customized of Readymade (2005) & Burberry Schoolgirl (2005) - In gallery 291 for a reason?

The many similar examples from the same collage series are excessive and unneeded; the effect makes this seem more like a gallery show and less like a thoughtfully curated museum exhibition.  Proof of this is in the pictures.  The below installation shots aren’t from the Art Institute, but from several recent gallery shows.  This is pretty much what the show at the Art Institute looks like.

Installation shots, but of what?

Maybe the curators wanted to show how widely Hawkins is collected, or maybe they wanted to showcase the shopping spree someone has been on. Many of the works in the show are labeled as newly acquired for the museum, proving that museums are active in the contemporary art market world (although perhaps only as recipients of works that a donor chooses to acquire).  Speaking of donors, let’s take a look at the lenders, there are a lot of them, and most of them are from New York, Miami and LA:

Craig Robins – Miami developer (and CE’mO) who loves artistic projects
Blake Byrne – Former-MOCA-board-member-‘mo
Kourosh Larizadeh & Luis Pardo – donate to ‘MOCA in LA
Goetz Collection – Munich, collection of Ingvild Goetz, who is a lady (exception to the trend)
John Morace & Tom Kennedy – New York ‘mos who sponsor a lot of shows
David Campbell – I hope this is the right old guy
Greene Naftali Gallery – Hawkins’s New York Gallery
Paul Chan – New York artist, also represented by Greene Naftali
Robert Lade & Richard Telles – LA ‘mos(?) and one half of Hawkins’s LA gallery, Richard Telles
Jim Isermann – LA artist, also represented by Richard Telles Gallery…
Tiffany Tuttle & Richard Lidinsky – Un-goggle-able couple
Dennis Cooper – LA, writer-of-Closer-‘mo
Barry Sloane – Big-shot LA realtor, who’s sold a Frank Lloyd Wright
Peter Norton – Gold-shitting heterosexual, of the Peter Norton Family foundation, and Norton Antivirus
And some Private Collection(s) in Chicago

So a bunch of ‘mo are buying Hawkins work, which isn’t surprising since the work is very generous (saturated even) with homosexual desire.  Let’s talk about desire:  When I was taking notes on my blackberry, I overheard a gallery walkthrough in progress.  A young museum educator talking with some silver-haired ladies, and I thought, wow this must be awkward.  But she handled it amazing well.  She recounted how she had given a tour to a highschool group and asked them to consider the idea of desire, how it is what you want and sometimes what you can’t have, and to question what is keeping you from having it.  Sources confirm that Hawkins is not dealing with unfulfilled desires.  After covering the subject matter of Greek and Roman sculptures, Hawkins began to focus on images on Asian boys.  Hawkins does indeed have a little Asian manfriend, so to his desires seem more fulfilled than un, mostly because little Asian men love him back.

Hope this post was as good for you as it was for me.  Why are the gay posts the best posts?

– H.I.

P.S. To my LA readers, Third Mind is headed to Los Angeles (shock of all shocks) after it closes in Chicago, so head over to the Hammer in February.

Urbis Paganus III (2009)– So many things you love all in one artwork Keith.