Thursday, October 29, 2015

Doris Salcedo’s "Carnal Vessels" at the Guggenheim (revision)

At the Guggenheim, I started from the 6th floor and slowly walked down through four stories of Doris Salcedo’s retrospective with momentary interruptions of filtered sky. In the show, one might encounter shirts impaled by bars, tables with scars and seams, petals stitched together like skin, garments drowned and solidified by concrete, and soil with leaves growing through solid crevices. Walking through the gallery is a solemn and curious procession through the materiality of grief.

There is something sinister about the use of stark, musty wood dressers and armoires as a remembrance of death. Doris Salcedo specializes in meticulous operations of cutting and pasting, sewing, and stapling incongruent pieces of lost objects and fabrics together. The process and result of her amputated chairs and needle-made clothing
are unconventional gravestones for people of Columbian decent, and around the world who have lost their lives to political upheaval. Her hands, and art, physically and viscerally remember the pain of loss. 

I look up and see the quiet, shifting visitors as mourners who’ve come to fill the space of the catacomb with a respectful gravitas. Treading the spiral floors and being reminded of a passed loved one, I came to appreciate the beauty of household objects as a medium for art and remembrance.

There is something about the stuff of people, that inhabit their spaces, that characterizes their existence. The accumulation of things, as artifacts of a personal history, seem to cease and disappear with their person. Doris Salcedo’s collection of clothes and furnishings made intimate possessions poignant in their sterile isolation. The museum gives dignification in housing her work, but the audience of her artwork are limited to those willing to pay a pretty penny at the entrance. Perhaps her pieces deserves to be placed where the intentions of the art would be more broadly received. 

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