Monday, December 12, 2016

“Take me (I’m Yours)” at the Jewish Museum

Cans of water, magnets, buttons, safety pins and dozens of free objects can be found all over the second floor of the Jewish Museum. But these aren't just any kind of mass-produced items, they are all works of art produced by a group of 42 artists from different generations and nationalities. In this unique show visitors are allowed to touch, eat and even take home the works of art, thus defying the conventions established by the art market.

The visitor is welcomed by a large green neon sign reading the title of the exhibition, a sort of flashy announcement of the of the unconventional artworks inside. A set of clear plastic bags are available for the viewer to take and then fill with the pieces they choose to take from the show. Inside the exhibit, artworks are not arranged thematically or chronologically and are exhibited in a seemingly random way. Felix Gonzalez-Torres, "Untitled" (USA Today), is perhaps the anchor piece of the show. The 1990 installation consists of thousands of candies extended in a long stripe over the floor created to pay a conceptual homage to the victims of AIDS. The viewer is free to take a piece, contributing to the disappearance of the pile of candies and consuming a sweet product that seems to hide the bitterness of the situation. On the other end of the exhibition, Carsten Höller, Pill Clock (red and white pills), created in 2015, allows the viewer to take another type of placebo, perhaps a more literal one. The Pill Clock drops a red and white pill onto the gallery floor every three seconds. 

Both artworks form part of an intergenerational dialogue of artists creating work that involves the viewer to address sociopolitical issues. But the structure of the exhibition turns the artworks into loose fragments, singular moments that aren't connected to a larger context.  

Sunday, December 11, 2016

The First Viewing of Dreamlands

The Whitney Museum’s website informs potential visitors that Dreamlands: Immersive Cinema and Art, 1905–2016 will “connect different historical moments of cinematic experimentation” with films that span more than century.
    The first film I came to was Edwin S. Porter’s Coney Island at Night. Filmed in Brooklyn in 1905, is full of filigree and sparkle.  Due to technological limitations at the time, it is a silent film. The combination of the filmed lights at night and the silence results in a quite appreciation of spectacle.  An interesting augment to the quiet pageant of this 111 year old movie is Oaskat Schlemmer’s Dar Triadische Ballett from 1922 and restated in 1970. The bright colors and occasional music in my side vision from Dar Triadische Ballett as I watched Coney Island at Night gave me more of an appreciation for the older film’s silence.    
    Entering the next room I came to Stan VanDerBeek’s Movie Mural from 1968. It is a collage of newsreels, glass slides, projected drawings, found film footage, and some of the artists own experimental films. This is all projected on multiple screens and surfaces. It is a lot to take in. As the films in the previous room affected my frontal vision and my periphery, VanDerBeek’s work was a relentless assault on my audio and visual senses. I was left with feeling of over-stimulation and wondering if this is what we have come to expect from our media.
    The Whitney seemed to have an answer for the modern fractured attention-span with many other films and film installations scattered throughout the floor.  There are 38 in all. Some can be seen with the music and light of other, unconnected films influencing the viewer. Some are standalone immersive movies with entire matching theme rooms built around them. Each work is engaging in a unique way and is impossible to view them all in completion in one visit. Dreamlands: Immersive Cinema and Art, 1905–2016 is a show to see again and again.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Dreamlands: Immersive Cinema and Art, 1905–2016 at the Whitney Museum of American Art

“Line Describing a Cone” (1973) by Anthony McCall. Photo credit Jake Naughton for The New York Times.
A few years ago, while working at a used bookstore, someone sold us a DVD copy of By Brakhage. I vaguely knew of Stan Brakhage and his work, so I stashed the anthology in the back, bought it on my break, and raced home after work to watch it. After about twenty minutes, my excitement faded and I was left feeling underwhelmed. The issue wasn’t the films themselves but rather the setting. Watching experimental film on a boxy 27-inch TV from the 1990s in your parents’ basement isn’t an ideal set-up. The Whitney is the appropriate environment for this kind of avant-garde and experimental film.

With close to forty artists in Dreamlands: Immersive Cinema and Art, 1905–2016, selecting a few highlights isn’t easy. Oskar Fischinger’s “Raumlichtkunst (Space Light Art)” (1926, restored 2012) is definitely one that shouldn’t be missed. This three-channel projection of colorful shapes and images set to music was one of the earliest multimedia installations of abstract art and predates Disney’s Fantasia–which Fischinger did concept drawings for shortly after leaving Germany for Hollywood in 1936. Another powerful piece is Anthony McCall’s “Line Describing a Cone” (1973). Installed in a nearly pitch-black room with a smoke machine that fills the with a fog, the light from a projector slowly brings the empty space of the room to life as a circle is drawn on the wall and a cone becomes visible connecting the projector and the wall. Lasting ten minutes, a circle is drawn on the wall and a cone becomes visible in the smoky room extending from project to wall. Ben Coonley’s “Trading Futures” (2016) is a 3D video set inside a cardboard geodesic dome. The ‘professor’ in this piece calls on the viewer to actively look around and respond to certain commands–close one eye, now the other–while discussing financial derivative trading.

The Whitney has transformed its fifth floor into a space devoted to charting a course through the twentieth century up to the present in order to explore arthouse cinema, experimental film, and digital video. Dreamlands is successful as an exhibition, but not every work is immersive. In some areas there are sound bleeds, other areas have distracting light creeping in from works across the hall, and some just don’t fit in the physical space. That being said, many works do fully immerse the viewer; they draw you in and keep your attention for twenty-plus minutes. Overall, Dreamlands is a huge success whether you are wandering in off of the street or making a day of it and taking it every moment of immersive cinema presented here. You will get lost in the cinematic experience.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Agnes Martin at the Guggenheim Museum

While Agnes Martin’s retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum is a testament to her legacy, the show also operates as a subtle celebration of Frank Lloyd Wright’s design of the museum. Because Martin’s work relies so heavily on the physical space of the viewer, the Guggenheim’s architecture has truly elevates her work to the level of a spiritual encounter.

Walking up the ramp, the spectator grows with Martin. The passage of time is articulated through the swirl of the museum, as the oldest works are located at the bottom of the rotunda and the rest of her oeuvre is positioned in chronological order. The shape of the Guggenheim dictates the experience of Martin’s work and reveals the evolution of her artistic processes, as well as the shift in her conceptual intentions.

Central to her work lies the grid: a motif which conveys control as well a sense of objectivity and universality. The grid exists in a vacuum and is decontextualized from cultural ideals; therefore, it is transcends time. Her non-representational body of work allows for explorations of color and form while remaining impervious to narrative. Yet, in paintings of horizontal and vertical bands, it is the simple mistakes that keeps Martin’s work human. The imperfections that exist in her hand drawn lines maintain a sense of life and approachability- the work is not an imitation of perfection, but a mystical articulation of spirituality and consciousness. Experiencing one of Martin’s works in an architecturally unique space is a meditative practice, one that roots the viewer in their surroundings while simultaneously having the potential to overwhelm with intense emotions.

Agnes Martin, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, October 7, 2016–January 11, 2017. Photo: David Heald

At the Jewish Museum's 'Take Me (I'm Yours)' Exhibit, An Interesting Concept Falls Flat

At its core, 'Take Me (I'm Yours)', the newest exhibit at the Jewish Museum, is about production and consumption. The concept that this group show hinges on is simple: each piece is made up of one or more mass produced objects, any of which the viewer is invited to take a piece of. Each museum-goer is presented with a small bag to carry the pieces home, turning the gallery space into a free gift shop of sorts.

The concept itself is an interesting one. This idea subverts the standard relationship between a viewer and a piece of art, and provides a much needed break in the fourth wall of the gallery space. However, many of these artists didn't make much of an effort to elevate their pieces beyond little trinkets for the taking. 

One table featured an array of open cardboard boxes, each of which held a stack of xeroxed pictures of a cloudy sky. This piece was one of the few that actually utilized the potential of this show's concept. Over time as people took paper from the array of xeroxes, each paper stack changed height, turning the whole table into a morphing, asymmetrical, 3D time based composition. 

Even though there were some enjoyable parts of the show, (temporary tattoos and stencils by conceptual art legend Lawrence Weiner, a couple cool prints, free seltzer,) pretty much everything in the gallery save a couple pieces failed to transcend simple novelty. If more of the pieces had been pushed more ambitiously, beyond the bare minimum required to fulfill the concept, this show could have been very interesting. Unfortunately, there is little going on in this show beyond its gimmick.