29 July 2007
I left off with some remarks about Shirley Tse – those looms, or racks – or pasta machines? – for what looked like plastic tagliatelle. I’m more familiar with Tse’s mostly hanging, mostly more or less flat, work on panels (though of course they’re not flat at all) – again with a variety of plastics and films, which have become a kind of trademark medium for her; and where those panels seem to invite dispassionate inquiry into their topography, her more explicitly sculptural objects tend to engage the viewer on a slightly more ambiguous and affective level. (To elaborate for just a moment – there are the concrete issues of cut and coverage; also, disclosure, transparency (or concealment), insulation, projection; there is the package and also, the product.) The objects at Shoshana Wayne left me with a queasy sense of resection and dissection – a contingency which underscored their ambivalent, morphing definition as objects, their ambiguous ‘operability’, their placement and projection in both space and time.
But I can’t really do a show – any show, let alone a show as interesting as Tse’s – justice without some immersion in that ‘space’ over some period of ‘time’ – to say nothing of just seeing the entire show. It was something I knew I had to return to – only to learn there would be no coming back. Story of my blog.
So I’ll loom into the present just a bit – to recap last night. Projection, perception, progression – an infinitely repeating series recapitulated day and night in the logistics of the art world itinerary. The risks fluctuate endlessly. In theory, they may be either multiplied or hedged or diffused in a group show; and conversely, the risk ‘reduced’ yet intensified in a solo show. A solo show this late into the summer is almost by itself a freak event and invites attention for that reason alone. I fastened onto one such show, if anything, too intensely for that reason among several, including my own passions for topics related to the artist’s chosen theme. The work was every bit as exquisite as I could have hoped for – exquisite, erudite, elegant. And dissatisfying. Setting aside their illustrational intention, the compositions would have resided comfortably among the pages of a book. Not to discount such considerable virtues – but there was no sense of departure. The issue isn’t originality; it’s combustibility, maybe even aerodynamics – an idea to catch fire or simply take flight. A fresh view, an unexpected turn, an unsettling (breathtaking?) perspective. I don’t ask for much more. One or two of the pieces in the show evinced a true wit. No names. The talent and technique are all there. All that’s required is fuel, friction and the oxygen of art.
I’d never been to Honor Fraser (I only just discovered she’s the Honor Fraser (like -- how many could there be?) – as stunning as ever and completely charming.) in Venice – but there’s always that first show that gets me anywhere; and Kristin Calabrese has an enviable curatorial talent that I think can be safely relied upon to assemble a compelling ensemble and show, regardless how well (or not) she articulates her theme. Hovering Over the Universe is the title – an almost oxymoronic/blasphemous paradox of a conceit that, considered in the company of her 12 or so peers (planning a Last Supper, are we? or a jury trial?), actually made a kind of sense. Maybe it should have been titled something like ‘Pressed against the Universe,’ or ‘Trapped between two parallel universes.’ Whatever – the work on view made sense of the loose concept – which is all that matters. Calabrese’s own canvas effectively stated her theme, a sky-filled – and cracked? – car windshield – brise-soleil, to stretch the point (or at least I will), lengths of yarn floating carelessly over the ‘cracks’ – continuous and very non-standard ‘stoppages’ in this measure of the “universe.” The simultaneously ineffable and implacable actuality of the material universe; what immerses us yet cannot be grasped, can barely be apprehended; the ambiguous gulf between the proven construct and the perceived ‘reality.’ It’s hard to say whether she’s even aware of the scope of her ambition – in a way, I think she might not be – because I think it takes a certain fearlessness to put this kind of show, however small or contained, together. Notwithstanding a few misses, it’s excellent. Brenna Youngblood’s mixed media panels of collaged painting and photography and photo-fragments are becoming something of a signature style – but there’s absolutely nothing stale about it. She goes from strength to strength; and the panel here – rich with personal and ‘parallel’ universes, textures both earthbound and entirely of the imagination – stands with her best work. It was well placed directly across a lushly painted JP Munro panel of dense red flaming foliage (“All the World Is A Battlefield” is the title) – which made me think both of Max Ernst and the Terminator movies. Mark Grotjahn departed from his own signature style with a dark yet expressive oil that evoked the dark, infathomable universe evoked by a ‘face’, or indeed any species of physiognomy, an intimate, meditative panel complemented by a mask-like objet trouvé construction reminiscent of H.C. Westermann. Mary Heilmann’s small canvas – scrawled red incised horizontal lines, intervals marked with hatchings, against a gold-ish ground, in turn, was a meditation on the mark – determined, ephemeral – our hapless registration against the universe.
I’m already going on longer than I intended – and before I go back to it, let’s jump into the now – before it’s too late. And that’s part of the problem. I am almost ecstatic as I write this – and despondent at the same time. I just came from the Richard Tuttle show at MOCA – from meeting Richard Tuttle – and am entirely transported. (I’m listening to Callas in Rossini’s Il Turco in Italia as I write this, and between the two – vision of Tuttle, voice of Callas – my head feels as if it’s going to explode.) It’s expansive, exhilarating, sublime; by Tuttle’s own estimation, the best installation the show has had over its four- or five-museum run (it’s definitely the most spacious, generously laid out). And it’s closing tomorrow. I’ll come back to this. I've got to lie down.