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Art Journal: NYC

By Dan Swartz

Fort Wayne Reader


As far as summer road trips go, I tend to stick with the nerdiness of museum going. This year, it happened to take the form of the New Museum and MoMA in New York City, and a temporary project done by Creative Time. All of these institutions are known for their directives of advancing the ability of the contemporary artist to connect with the art world and the public at large with an increasing degree of intimacy.

7/24/08 New Museum

The New Museum, which is open and free to the public on Thursdays from 7pm-10pm, on the Bowery in the Lower East Side of Manhattan was a particular gem with their current exhibitions entitled “After Nature.”

The first piece of interest in the show is Maurizio Cattalan’s “Untitled” taxidermied horse which is affixed to the wall from the neck, with the rest of the body (torso and limbs) limply hanging in midair. It is hard not to mistake this piece for some sort of crucifix, especially given Cattalan’s history of controversial sculptures including on depicting a life-sized Pope John Paul II being hit by a meteorite. When taken in the context of the show, its subtle sense of peace and its ability to emote pity in the viewer works very well. Massimiliano Gioni conceived “After Nature,” a three-story show that includes ninety-some works. Gioni, the New Museum’s Director of Special Exhibitions, is also a highly acclaimed critic and curator to other organizations, as well as a co-director of The Wrong Gallery in New York City. In this show, Gioni has created a post-rapture/pre-apocalyptic odd space full of loneliness, fear, abandonment, and beauty. Although the show’s parallels with our current relationship to nature was heavy-handed and repetitive at times, there was more than enough depth to the show to keep the viewer interested from beginning to end.

Perhaps the most pointed and feverishly elegant piece in this perfectly curated show is Tino Sehgal’s “Instead of allowing some things to rise up to your face, dancing bruce and dan and other things” (2000). This mix between sculpture and performance is both challenging and engaging, taking the form of a choreographed dancer writhing around on the floor, making eye-contact and scripted to interact with the audience only when the audience gets confident enough to come close. Specifically, the piece is appropriating movements from Dan Graham and Bruce Nauman’s video works. This piece is placed in a nook to the back of the central exhibition space which can be seen by turning the corner, or access from the floor above by a narrow stair well-both force the viewer to encounter this piece with a steadily rising heartbeat. At first, the dancer can be mistaken as a fellow museum viewer who has had some sort of an unfortunate accident and is writhing in pain. After the patterned movements are understood, the piece is then mistaken as some sort of super-sophisticated animatronic sculpture-obviously. Once drawn in by this odd dance of the seven veils, and the truth comes about that it is not only a performer, but also a complex piece completed by multiple dancers, each with 2-hour shifts, the piece sews itself together as being something awe-inspiring.

(http://www.newmuseum.org/ for photos of the exhibition)

7/25/08 MOMA

The Modern Museum of Art (MoMA) is always a must-see with any visit to New York City, even with its ever-increasing feeling of being at a sports event or some public festival than the house for the highest achievements of Modernism in art. The permanent collection acts like a catalogue of Modern masters, and this current collection showing was particularly pleasing with rooms devoted to Ad Reinhart, Marc Rothko, and Joseph Beuys. With a collection of over 150,000 pieces of modern and contemporary art, many of the shifting permanent collection rooms change slowly over the months to allow a deeper view into the collection, while certain master works like Picasso’s “Les Desmoiselle’s d’Avigion” is always on view.

The space that displays MoMA’s design collection also housed a special tribute to George Lois and showed his work for Esquire Magazine. Lois is known as one of the most influential names in advertising for his generation. His work made Xerox, MTV, and Volkswagen the names they are today. This exhibition included his most important covers of Esquire from 1962-1972, ones which touched upon the enormous social change in America from civil rights and the roles of women, to contemporary art at that time. These covers include JFK; a controversial portrait of Muhammad Ali portrayed as St. Sebastian; and Andy Warhol. The most influential of all was the September 1965 cover for a feature article, which was about the four most influential figures on youth culture taken from a poll — Bob Dylan, Fidel Castro, and John F. Kennedy, and Malcolm X. Lois’ cover was a collage of these four faces pieces together as being looked at through the crosshair of a firearm. This poignant image wraps up so much of what we now think of as this transition period in American history.

(http://www.moma.org for more information on MoMA’s permanent collection and George Lois)

7/26/08 David Byrne Installation

Creative Time, a NYC arts organization that assists artists to create public pieces has teamed up with David Byrne of Talking Heads fame for a sound installation entitled “Playing the Building.” This installation is a culmination of years of working with the city to find a space for this piece, and is a testament to the dedication, which both Creative Time and Byrne have when it comes to this work. The piece takes the form of an old dilapidated organ, which is tricked out with electronics, which are in turn connected to percussive and wind devices via cables. When the organs keys are struck, they force the devices to clang against the infrastructure of the building (metal supports, pipes formerly used for heating, etc) to create various sounds and noises. The building is now turned into an musical instrument itself. While it was somewhat disappointing to find that it is really only one large space, and not, in fact a whole building with separate rooms making separate noises, this is still a very impressive undertaking.

(http://www.davidbyrne.com/art/ for more info on “Playing the Building”)

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