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.

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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

Dreamlands

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Jud Yalkut “Destruct Film” – 1967

Screen. Light and shadows dance and mix and chase. There is movement across and in between. The screen runs up against the darkness. Or maybe there is no screen, just a wall and a projected image. Out of a machine little particles fly, looking for something to knock up against and explode – illuminate.

Sound. Whir buzz crash. Cymbals. Crash. A low hum of a projector. A voice that is not human but is familiar.

Hallways connect light and sound. A voice bleeds into the click of the projector. One dark room becomes another – keep your bearings so you don’t get lost in this world. White becomes pink, neon, green. (Alex Da Corte and Jaysson Musson “Easternsports”) Each moment you are in front of, inside, in between. In between.

Between walls, between light particles, between sounds, between works of art, between understandings and thoughts. Just as fast in and out of one and another as the images come and go before your gaze. In between moments of wonder and engagement.

In between dreams and consciousness.

In low light, snippets of sound drift out of indistinguishable aboves. You can hold light, catch the projector beam in your hand, then cough in the smoke, move, release, and it is gone. (Anthony McCall “Line Describing a Cone”) Open your eyes from one darkness to the next and catch at the memory, try to grasp it as the last tendrils fade and the dream, only an imagined memory to begin with, is now another degree removed.

The confetti of it sticks in your brain – falling upon you at strange times. The confetti of film crunches under your feet – hold it up to the light of another film being projected. Your shadow interrupts that of another on the wall. 5 – 4 – 3 – crunch under feet – out of the gallery and into the next. (Jud Yalkut “Destruct Film”)

Images come and go like fireflies blinking in and out – magical and speedy. (Philippe Parreno “With a Rhythmic Instinction to be Able to Travel Beyond Existing Forces of Life”) It is enchanting to watch life that is not life like ours but somehow still gets it.

You are enveloped and it is a game. You watch or play or exist. (Hito Steyerl “Factory of the Sun”)  Somehow every part of it gets bundled up in the blue light, and play and commentary and reality are all confused.

Because it is real. And it is a reality beyond touch, but within feeling. A dreamland.

 

“Dreamlands: Immersive Cinema and Art 1905-2016” is on view at the Whitney until February 5, 2017

Image: http://whitney.org/Exhibitions/Dreamlands?&artwork_id=17251&filter_id=73

Aftershocks and Art

The Whitney currently has a portrait show on view in its expansive sixth and seventh floor galleries. The show features all types of portraiture: from the iconic pop works of Andy Warhol such as Ethel Scull 36 Times, to Howard Kanovitz’s very Mad-Men-feeling New Yorkers I. Even the artists themselves are featured, as in Alice Neel’s Andy Warhol. The show also includes less conventional portraits (ie those not featuring a face). One of my favorites – “unconventional” or otherwise – was Saul Leiter’s Shoe of the Shoeshine Boy, which was a photo of exactly what it sounds like. Lovely.

Yet despite all of the beautiful and strange and vibrant things around me, I was captured by a different piece altogether.

Four large faces stared out from the white wall, looking over the other pieces occupying space in the gallery. Four young men of Robert Beck’s Thirteen Shooters.

Three years ago a shooting resulting in two deaths took place in the district where I went to school. I was under lock down for three hours, hoping for the safety of my friends and neighbors and doing my best to stay composed. And continuing to do my best to stay composed. Only in the past year have I really come to terms with the fact that I am allowed to feel it – allowed to have experienced fear in the moment and pain and loss and confusion afterward – even though I wasn’t in the same building.

Even though I wasn’t there I felt the initial aftershock. And the aftershock of the first time the PA system came on after, with a reassurance that it was just standard announcements and everything was okay… And the aftershock of an emergency alarm… And the aftershock of shooter in the area text…

And the aftershock of a piece of art.

Art makes you feel. It forces you to confront life, even the hard parts. Art stirs you up and wrings you out. Standing in front of those over-sized portraits (none of which I could describe now, their traits replaced with feelings), I felt. I remembered. And it was hard and it hurt but I am grateful for it nonetheless.

Art shocks us and keeps us human.

It reminds us that underneath all of our strength, we are terribly, wonderfully, deeply fragile humans.

 

Human Interest: Portraits from the Whitney’s Collection is on view until February 12, 2017