Color, Light, and Clouds: The Art of Thomas Wilfred

Here light is the artist’s sole medium of expression.

He must mould it by optical means,

almost as a sculpture models clay.

He must add color, and finally motion to his creation. 

Motion, the time dimension, demands that he must

be a choreographer in space. 

~Thomas Wilfred

How do you play light? How do you change noise, which is not-matter, into light, which is not-matter, and come away with an experience, which certainly matters?

In the charcoal grey, cave-like gallery space, ghostly, glowing forms draw you toward them. How can a form without mass have such gravity?

Part lava lamp, part screen saver, part soul trapped in a simple frame – the screens are opuses. This one, Counterpoint in Space, Op. 146 is an eternal smokey vapor trapped in a box. It ‘s like watching a sunrise through a puff of vape smoke: sweet and ghostly and just a little off-putting if you get too close. It is an always-shifting, rose-green, meditative viewing experience.

Throughout the exhibition there is a contrast of weightless, noiseless, changing color-forms, with the heavy wooden boxes that ground them, frame them, and ultimately allow them to exist. Here, a cage is a life source.

Track the light, follow the smoke. This is the world of a busy, multitasking mind – a dream-place built by a conductor of light. This is proof that light can be bent and moved and taught to behave, though it remains unburdened by its task.

At first glance there is stillness, then a gentle, bleeding, lazily drifting spread of brightness.

Wilfred believed that imagination was a concept, and that reality was the physical equipment which made it possible. The artist’s role is to make people believe that what they see on screen is actually a window; that the world of light and color and emotion and form captured in brief is all around us.

It’s all about laying back and finding shapes in the clouds.

 

Lumia: Thomas Wilfred and the Art of Light is on view at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington DC until January 7, 2018.

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Coconut Almond Fudge Swirl

There is something very innocent about ice cream in July: the way the heat and sunshine slowly melt the round scoops; the way a quick turn-lick tidies up the sweet, dripping confection

Ice cream makes sense. Summertime, wandering down the sidewalk, hoping not to sweat-drip as your ice cream melt-drips, sculpting it back into submission against the heat. It’s easy.

There is a childlike joy that comes when you miss a drip and it races down the side of the cone – trying not to disappear into the waffle texture on the way down. It marks your fingers, implicating you in the not-quite mess. Now your skin smells like sunscreen and tastes like sugary warm days.

You work your way through the treat – it becomes a game: twist the cone as you bite it down, try to keep too much from melting over the edge, eat your way to the bottom point of the cone (the best bite).

When you later wash the last bit of creamy stickiness off your fingers (finding that licking it off is ineffective) there is a moment of passage – as fast as that drop slipping down the side of the unwrapped cone – from childhood back to reality, back to the heat of a July afternoon.

Happy National Ice Cream Day!

Making Connections

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Light string by Felix Gonzalez-Torres at David Zwirner Gallery in Chelsea

Art is about connection. Connecting ideas and stories and people and more art. These connections can happen serendipitously.

For example, at the Whitney Biennial – among all of the clamor over VR violence and questionable portraiture – stood a quiet alcove. Across from the gaping mouth of Anicka Yi’s video room was a classic white box gallery space containing six brightly colored canvases. These paintings by Shara Hughes were vibrant, abstract, and full of life. They made me stop and sit for a moment on a bench in the center of the space. I paused. The next day, I stumbled across another Shara Hughes show at Rachel Uffiner Gallery in the Lower East Side. Engagement, then a second, unexpected opportunity.

Visual art is, of course, associated with the eyes. But it can connect to all of the senses.

Sound was also featured in the Biennial, in various ways. There was the awful sound of skull on concrete in Jordan Wolfson’s Real Violence , on the other hand there was the calm voice of the narrator in Anicka Yi’s The Taste Genome. Plus the glorious hum of museum goers, quietly discussing, debating, dissecting.

Taste. Following the Biennial, I went to David Zwirner, where a new Felix Gonzalez-Torres show was up after the recent change in representation. It is undoubtedly the best gallery show I have ever experienced. Experienced – not seen – because I did not simply exist in the space, I participated. I bent down and plucked a sweet, minty candy from the pile of Ross in the corner of the upstairs gallery space. It was hard and real on my tongue. Substance from substance.

And touch. In that same show I walked through a curtain of beads. I heard them click against each other and I felt their weight shift around me and over me as my body disrupted the solid but shifting barrier. There were blue curtains, too. Light and thin and airy, they covered the windows in a long room upstairs. I could imagine them flowing in the breeze if the windows were open. I could imagine the fabric – smooth on my fingers.

My pen was blue, too, that day as I wrote what I saw. I touched it. I felt it.

Smell is tricky. I wasn’t knocked out by Pope L.’s bologna at the Biennial – it was disappointing, in a way. But today I spent all my time among art and people that love it. Young museum professionals, as we connected in museums. Together we looked, and then we smelled through time – experiencing Ancient Rome through six bottles (like Hughes’s six paintings those few weeks ago) containing ghosts – from flowers to fish sauce. Along the way we talked and listened, too.  We touched – with a handshake our connections expanded. All of our senses worked today.

Feeling needs to be distinguished too. It is different from touch. Feeling is the most important sense in connecting with visual art. Maybe feeling is a well-placed bit of dismembered metal on a wall – a Trigger, left by Puppies Puppies as subtly as a landmine. Or maybe it’s those curtains – beads and fabric – blue and blue. Maybe it’s the way color can get wrapped up with a person, so blue becomes love. Maybe it’s taking that moment on that bench in the center of that white room broken by Shara Hughes’s fantasy environments.

Art is about more than eyes. Eyes are a part of a larger body – your larger body. And it is made of so many connections.

 

Shara Hughes “Same Space Different Day” at Rachel Uffiner runs until June 25, 2017.

Felix Gonzalez-Torres at David Zwirner runs until July 14, 2017.

The Guggenheim: Calder, Brancusi, and Three Little Munchkins

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Currently on view at the Guggenheim in New York is show “Visionaries,” featuring works by Kandinsky, Picasso, and more. Perhaps my favorite was a Calder called Arc of Petals (1941). It was like a 3D Miro. It was like standing in a windstorm among blossoms – as the title suggests. The piece was more than the scupture itself – it was also its shadow. Peter Pan would have loved it, the way the metal pieces and their dark counterparts were free to move, but never to move alone.

While that was the show I came for, it was another unexpected encounter that won the day.

Off the rotunda, a sampling of Brncusi sculptures are being shown. The centerpiece(s) of the collection are three wooden creations: not-quite-totem-poles, not-quite-figures, not-quite-recognizable… Adam and Eve, The Sorceress, and King of Kings.

Next to these three sculptures were three other things: little girls. Sitting in front of the pieces – smaller than them already, but even more so when hunched over their notebooks – were three girls probably between the ages of 3 and 7. Each of them was intently focused on their work. Their heads went up and down as they looked and drew and looked again. The littlest one was initially drawing a face, but eventually switched to match the older two, recreating King of Kings on the page in front of her. She kept stealing glances at the drawings of her companions. They shaded and lined and compared. Repeat.

As I stepped closer and watched for a moment, I thought of myself. My first museum memory is of sitting in front of a huge totem pole at the Denver Art Museum, drawing and looking and occupying the dim room with the dark carpet and just being there.

There must be something about kids and big sculptures. If you let them, they really want to look.

 

“Visionaries” is on view until September 6, 2017

“Brancusi” is on view until January 3, 2018

Window World

The way my lights reflect in the window make it look like the trees are draped with a luminous shawl. Little yellow specks, glowing, are tucking between the branches. Birds perch among them – next to, beside, under. Though they can’t see the shine of the lights, illuminated only in the glass of my window, they fit perfectly among the illusion.

As the natural light changes throughout the day – the sky suiting itself for morning, dusk, darkness – the lights become my secret constellation. Hung delicately for no one, accidentally stuck between wall and bricks and glass and air. They stretch from one tree to another, hanging down between two more. The strand doesn’t know that while on the wall it covers a few feet, in the window world it morphs into more.

The little bulbs make a trail – appearing to have a beginning and an end, but with no tangible place to set your foot and begin.

If only you were able to climb light up the side of a building, as though it were ivy, and tiptoe across the glittering high wire, between the silhouettes of birds and branches.