Friday, November 18, 2016

Tales of Our Time at the Guggenheim by Cary Wander


      Tales of Our Time, an exhibition currently on view at the Guggenheim Museum, seeks to challenge the conventional notions of place and storytelling.  The show is composed by a handful of artists and artist groups coming primarily from Taiwan, Hong Kong, and China.  The work presented revolves around the idea of place, showing scenes from hometowns to outskirts and remote islands, and even industrial sites.  
     When entering the exhibition, the viewer is confronted with large format Chinese calligraphic black ink paintings.  These paintings are displayed on the walls and ceiling with imagery of wildlife interacting with a polluted and dark planet, and become an immersive experience as you walk through a narrow hallway that leads to a larger room also covered with striking black paintings.  These paintings are complemented by an animation that is done in the same black and white calligraphic style with splashes of red added in.  The animation shows human forms and animal forms, primarily a fox, traveling through various landscapes that are marred by war, industrialization, and nuclear energy plants.  While visually striking, the animation also offers up a critique of social and political tensions as well as the damaging effects of industrialization and war through its apocalyptic renditions of natural landscapes.  
      Although the show is composed of distinct works of art, the most challenging piece in the exhibition employs an industrial robotic arm with a squeegee attachment that systematically scrapes a pool of blood-like fluid towards itself, a contradiction of its own mechanical being.  This piece, wittily titled “Can’t Help Myself,”  raises questions about what it means to be an individual in the fragmented global society that we live in since the machine is an never ending loop of scraping the blood that will minutes later seep back towards the edges. 

     Overall Tales of Our Time is a fantastic exhibition that successfully marries analog process and highly technological forms.  The varied media employed create a feeling of a fragmented world, and yet the subject matter of each piece unifies the show under one cohesive concept.  Each piece in the exhibition has high aesthetic and conceptual value, making for a showing that is not only beautiful but may leave you pondering how humans navigate through the world today.


  1. Your descriptive language in this review is really solid, and gives me a really clear picture of what it was like to experience this exhibition. I like how you’re able to relate the visual aesthetics of the different works to the underlying meanings in each piece. I wish there was a little more attention paid to what you interpret the underlying meanings to be, i.e. more examples of why “Can’t Help Myself” is a piece about being an individual in a fragmented society. I really like where you’re going with that idea, so I wish I could read more!

  2. Cary, this is a very thorough review! I feel like I'm able to get a good pulse of the exhibition through your descriptions, and you lead us through the installation of the works very fluidly. I have to say I agree with Katie that there could be more analysis in your review as to what the works individually or collectively relay, as well as what the "conceptual value" of the exhibition actually is. There is a generalness to your last statement that I think you could rework to really get at the core of what this exhibition delivers!