Life is full of opportunities to experience art. The notes below are reflections on five instances in October when I chose to show up. Please feel free to tell me about your events or suggest things that I could see or do in upcoming months. – JWB
Saturday, 10/10/09 – Metropolitan Museum of Art: Egyptian, Greek, and Medieval exhibits
The exhibits brought three themes to mind: complexity and the forms that it takes; the relationship between time, location, function, and significance; and the role of planning and collective participation in museums. Mechanical devices like the clocks and timekeeping globes in the medieval exhibit were technical achievements, while hieroglyphics and Christian symbology reflected complex societies, and pieces such as the simple yet lifelike Egyptian statuettes hinted at a deep knowledge of materials, lines, and volume.
It's strange how an object made with certain purposes in mind can gain new purposes, such as perpetuating conceptions about the societies from which they came, and informing modern societies’ conceptions of themselves. It was both stirring and haunting to see the Temple of Dendur, built in 15 B.C., given to the U.S. by Egypt in 1965, at once an ancient symbol of the natural world, now also a gateway to the past. Some of the graffiti carved in its stones was hundreds of years old.
Wednesday, 10/14/09 – Distance Optional
When I greeted Film Studies Professor Mark Williams on Facebook he was preparing to return from a lecture in Doha, Qatar. The past few times that my former instructor and I have caught up, we’ve discussed film, technology, and media. This summer I wrote an article about the adoption of online social networks and how, in time, we forget that we chose to adopt them. Some of Professor Williams’ essays address similar challenges in film and set out critical approaches that can be used to study them.
In Real Time Fairy Tales: Cinema Prefiguring Digital Anxiety, Professor Williams proposed that Apparatus Theory, an approach that was prevalent in the 70s, could facilitate the examination of the economies of avowal and disavowal in film. In his words, the “approach does several things, including working with issues of subjectivity in relation to issues of representation … New media seem to introduce new economies of these key terms, especially in relation to issues and representations of time.”
Sunday, 10/18/09 – The Drawing Center: Ree Morton – At the Still Point of the Turning World
Artists are encouraged to avoid explanations. The Drawing Center’s exhibition, which quotes Morton in its notes on her work and displays some of her personal papers, was enhanced by them. Morton’s focus was evident when she was in art school. “Roughly, three ideas interest me almost equally,” she wrote. “[s]tructure, geometric shapes, modular repetitions, grids; light which can glow, be reflected, be absorbed, which in the case of drawings means integrating the quality of the paper with the marks made on it.”
The New York Times’ Karen Roseberg felt the show was a missed opportunity. Because of my limited knowledge of Morton, I feel it would be irresponsible to take a position on the show's quality, but I would have liked to see more of her work. Morton who, in the Center’s words, attempted to “reconcile Americana and kitsch with … Minimalism … narrative, and autobiography,’ made art that yields increasing amounts after one sits with it. I later came across a photo of one of the mixed-media pieces from the show and saw how she had in effect dissolved the picture plane.
Monday, 10/20/09 – The Wilde Years: Four Decades of Shaping Visual Culture at the SVA
An excerpt of the SVA's press release reads that “[th]e 40 years of work presented in The Wilde Years offer a snap-shot survey of cultural trends as expressed through visual communication and a study in seduction, provocation, and power. Be it with a billboard, the morning paper or the logo on a coffee cup.” Tonight and tomorrow, SVA’s students and supporters have the chance to reconnect, mingle, and appreciate the creations of friends, classmates, and alumni.
The experience was, in a word, reflexive. Audrey Hepburn, Louis Armstrong, 50 Cent, and Eminem were some of the many celebrities portrayed in the exhibit's pieces; Hanoch Piven's playful, allusive portraits, which have graced American and European publications, stood out both on the walls and on the pins that the School was giving to guests. But what it all means is harder to say. Those who would attempt to classify the pieces as either art or commerce will find it harder to do than they might think. Such polarized approaches fall apart in the presence of the work, much of which depicts musicians, writers, and celebrities.
Tuesday, 10/20/09 – tree museum
The tree museum has no walls or ceilings. A public art project conceived by Katie Holten, the museum runs the length of the Grand Concourse in the Bronx from 138th Street to Mosholu Parkway and gives visitors audio accounts of stories related to trees that are marked on maps provided by the Bronx Museum. Visitors call the provided phone number and enter the trees' designated extensions to hear stories associated with them. Once you have the brochure, you can enter the museum from any point along its border at any time (or, if one chose, without being there at all).
The brochure doesn’t delve into the step by step development of the project, but contains an informative interview which shows that creating the museum took time, dedication and, one would imagine, signatures. One of the museum's distinctive traits is that it is made of things that are not of it. Museums tend to contain things. tree project doesn't house the nearby courthouse or the other buildings along the Concourse, but the presence of these structures are part of what makes the museum what it is. The same can be said of the residents, who are the source of the stories visitors hear when they participate in the museum. It is a fascinating example of how space can possess simultaneity of meaning; its stories are modern, and its exhibits are from a dynasty older than jewelry, sculptures, and kings.