Monday, December 11, 2006

Miami Dawn, Laguna Beach Sunset...

Two Coasts

To watch
the sun rise
over the Atlantic
Ocean, and
that same
day, set
over the Pacific
Ocean: something
of a marvel,
no? Who
of all humans
who ever
lived, but we,
this past
century, and less,
have seen
this miracle?

And a Final Thought ot Two...

... inspired by Art Basel/Miami. Aside from the fairs we have talked about, Bush, it was the number of private collections open to the public and the concurrent museum shows that made decisions about what to see—and what to miss—that much more difficult. I already mentioned the Rubell collection and its exhibition of Los Angeles artists, which we saw on our first day in Miami. Regrettably, we missed the show of Bruce Nauman’s neon works at the Museum of Contemporary Art, which proved too far to get to easily, especially given so short a stay. We also missed the Bass Museum—close to the Convention Center, but, well… we simply lacked the time.

I was happy, though, that we did make time to cross over to downtown Miami to catch two exhibitions of selections from the Ella Fontanals-Cisneros Collection. “The Sites of Latin American Abstraction” was a useful history of the manifestations of geometric abstraction in Latin America. My own preference is for the more “hand-made” works in this genre rather than those architectural, sometimes mechanical forms that strike me as rather cold and intellectual. I do love monochrome painting and even the simplest of geometric surfaces where I detect the obsessive striving for perfection of the human mind. There were enough examples of this kind of work included to make this show appealing to the soulful part, as well as stimulating to the brain cells.

Still more fascinating, for me, was the rather clumsily entitled “Forms of Classification: Alternative Knowledge and Contemporary Art.” This headline led me to expect something drearily academic, but the title proved misleading. I’m sure that the curator’s statement of intention was also intended to illuminate, but I found that it unnecessarily obfuscated what was a truly wonderful exhibition—by turns deeply moving, intellectually challenging, and at times just laugh-out-loud funny. “Conceptual art” can all too often be a bore, especially, for me, when I can easily “get it” and move on. The works in this show, for the most part, were rich, engaging to the eye and mind, and inexhaustible in meaning and association.

Take, for example, the work that occupied the entire first room of the exhibition, an installation by the artist Susan Hiller: a wall text, a whole wall of small, framed photographs and an accompanying book documented Hiller’s journey throughout contemporary Germany in search of streets whose names included references to Jews: Judenstrasse, Kleine Judengasse… innumerable variations which poignantly evoked the past history and contribution of a once-vital part of the population to German society and German culture, as well as the memory of their ubiquitous presence in these towns and villages and cities, and the tragedy of their loss in the Holocaust. And, too, a kind of ghost-like, haunting presence evoked simply by the remaining street names and the signs that identify them.

Or take the work of Mathilde ter Heijne, whose long racks of stark, black and white postcard images of unknown women of the nineteenth century brought all cultures together—African, Indian, Western-Caucasian, East Asian—in an equally poignant recollection of the vulnerability and the anonymous, transitory nature of human, in this case particularly feminine existence. Invited to take an image from the racks, I found myself involved in a complex contemplation of the possible reasons for making my own selection: beauty or pathos, strength, seeming intelligence or compassion… and exploring the social implications of those choices; and fascinated by the choices that others had made before me, how some racks were almost depleted of their images, while others remained untouched, neglected, waiting for recognition or attention. The piece seemed to me a new, less strident, more reflective feminism, an invitation to think with depth and penetration about how each of us individually views women and their place in the world.

Or the work of Francis Alys, the videotaped night-time adventures of a fox let loose in the deserted halls of the British National Portrait Gallery, assembled, I assume, from the tapes of surveillance cameras. It’s amusing, of course, to watch the creature’s restless travels over the polished parquet floors and, on occasion, over the stuffed leather benches, between the serried rows of masterpiece human portraits from all ages; but its also a study in the contrasting worlds of art and nature, an evocation of the old ars longa, vita breva (do I have my Latin right this time) conundrum, the swift vitality of the constantly moving fox and the stuffy, lifeless things hung on the walls. Lots to think about there, and an engaging visual treat—one that never bores or tires the eye.

More hilarious still, and equally compelling from the viewer-auditor’s point of view is the installation Julian Rosenfeldt, whose videotapes and sound equipment record the details of his every smallest movement in a deadpan reenactment of life’s daily activities: eating, walking, scratching, crumpling paper, rolling a cigarette and lighting up, placing things on the surface of a table, all in high definition sound and image… Three large, wall-sized screens record the action from three different angles, focussing sharpened attention on the most ordinary of sounds and movements and challenging us, it seemed to me, into surprised and delighted awareness of the inherent interest of each passing moment in time.

Joseph Grigely’s wall of simple paper notes also draws on the most ordinary aspects of the daily experience of being human. Colorful recycled post-its, sheets from memo pads, folded napkins, scraps of torn paper of all kinds are pinned up edge to edge to form and fill a perfect rectangle, a geometric not-painting flush against the wall inviting the viewer to contemplate the passing thoughts and feelings of scores of anonymous—and probably unwitting—contributors whose scribbled notes have been assembled here. Polite or acerbic, passionate or simply business-like, these throwaway texts form a fascinating pattern of interrupted, essentially temporal human-to-human (or self-to-self!) communications, spontaneous in their original intention but transformed into a kind of gently ironic timeless status by their inclusion in the artwork. We are asked to reflect on the relationship between the public and the private, the relativity of meaning and ephemeral intentions…

And then there are Allan McCollum’s surrogate paintings, lines of small black monochromes which mock the art of painting, the viewer, and themselves; Jimmie Durham’s videotape in which the artist is seen simply smashing whatever happens to be brought to him by willing participants, and handing them a signed certificate in exchange; and Monika Weiss’s moving work about books, their physical properties and their intellectual content… and the tyrannical act of burning them.

And more, too much to mention here. I found myself engaged throughout, constantly shifting in intellectual position and emotional response. The “up” side of the Miami experience remains the reassurance that our artists will continue to surprise and challenge us with their investigations into the unknown and the unknowable, and their inventive forays into the infinite possibilities of creative media.

Back home in California, I gather that you, too, Bush, are exploring infinite possibilities. None of them good. I have some catching up to do before we talk again. In the meantime, forgive these long digressions.


Carly said...

P: There you are.

Dawn on a beach
the waves are still
and tranquil
the rhythm
and sound
of the lapping
waters edge
the aeons
Florida. Hawaii. Japan. Bali.
when the sea
is like glass and
the shimmering
has risen
the cool
a golden
from the surface
my eyes are dazzled
spirit and awe
of another

Carly said...

Cardozo and Peter:
Perhaps, Peter, you have been following our discussion on foreign affairs. My friend, Bill, gave me the inevitable warning about China, "But before you elevate China to being on the right path to serving the world, you might want to reconsider the dubious recent past of the Chinese. There is still much repression of free thought in China".

To which:
Yes, that big deal issue in patriotic circles...Consider: what makes China dynamic as opposed to us? We have drown in our self-righteous democracy. And we are not different nor better, far more degenerate and violent. And are people here free? Given a choice, huge numbers voted for a tyrant. Most of the rest give up their rights to conformity, corporate power, inner circles, etc. So what's the difference? That we are not thrown in jail for speaking? That's in part an illusion. If you really speak out in this country and strike a vital nerve, you are facing serious troubles of some sort. Look at this guy on Sixty Minutes last night, who turned in the sadists at Abu Grav. He's been forced into hiding by the town he grew up in, Cumberland, Maryland - death threats by lifelong friends, even family. Repression of each other. And did we not fear for our own words over the last few years?

The difference I spoke of is: China is bourgeoning while we are decaying, loosening while we are tightening. They are becoming the leader in the world. We have thrown it away. When have you seen them attack other countries? Tibet? Hardly a Vietnam or Iraq. And their highest officials, their Premier, have made good will business trips recently to South America and Africa to strike huge deals of economic weight. They are exploding on the world scene in a variety of ways for a variety of reasons.
The Chinese are quite vocal now, too, an artistic and philosophical society. They have fewer artists, who are of superior quality. We have: everybody and his brother is an artist. Here, people of quality are ignored, while people of celebrity are idolized. That ill symptom hasn't hit China. The rich and the poor are distinct here, there the class system is somewhat more level, lower, but so what if everybody doesn't have a Kitchen Aid Mini-Prep Chopper (made in China). Their dynamic is that they are still partially under the old, autocratic system and coming out in a dynamic way, we are going in, in a stale, pedantic way, gripped by bureaucracy and imploded vision.

Some are saying Iraqis were better off under Saddam. Many in China are well off in the same way. Our system is only better for us, or so we think. We (Bushites) should get over the fact that others are better off without our ways and they know it. That's actually what my argument is about.

The reality is, neither China nor America has the best system, the snooty French do. They've made all the mistakes, learned from it, and tried to warn Bush. They've been there, done that. And that's why they are existential and snooty. Ha!

GringoWithoutBorders said...

Carly is my Messiah!!! I wonder if people think their parents, grandparents or great great great relatives lived a horrible wretched life because they did not have the Kitchen Aid Mini Prep Blender, let alone electricity. What ever happened to Money Does Not Buy Happiness; oops I guess money is how we convince ourselves of our cultural and moral superiority.

However, we must wait and see if the Military Industrial Complex explodes in China and if they develop the logistical capabilities to use airpower to invade and occupy lands 10,000 miles away. Very few countries can logistically support a foreign occupation.

Remember "Ultimate power, ultimately corrupts all."

This week our US media said there was a small demonstration in Iran where they were chanting, "Death to their President" Wow!!! I wish I could say that, but I can’t say that in America, I guess they do have more freedom of speech in Iran then I do or else this is just American propaganda reporting this, you choose.

I'm still scratching my head on how Americans can claim to be the freest when America locks up more of their citizens in prison then ANY other country on this Earth? Makes no sense, sounds like brainwashing or having the wool pulled over ones eyes.

Good Job Carly!