Saturday, November 7, 2009

RZ’s Xellent MOMA adventure

[The assignment was to go to MOMA and write about a piece of minimalist art]

Kosuth’s One and Three Chairs… One and/or three chairs, even. Readymade plus idea plus reproduction, beautifully poised on the cusp where minimalism meets conceptualism. Great description in MOMA online: “A chair sits alongside a photograph of a chair and a dictionary definition of the word chair. Perhaps all three are chairs, or codes for one: a visual code, a verbal code, and a code in the language of objects, that is, a chair of wood. But isn't this last chair simply . . . a chair? Or, as Marcel Duchamp asked in his Bicycle Wheel of 1913, does the inclusion of an object in an artwork somehow change it? If both photograph and words describe a chair, how is their functioning different from that of the real chair, and what is Kosuth's artwork doing by adding these functions together? Prodded to ask such questions, the viewer embarks on the basic processes demanded by Conceptual art.

‘The art I call conceptual is such because it is based on an inquiry into the nature of art,’ Kosuth has written. ‘Thus, it is . . . a working out, a thinking out, of all the implications of all aspects of the concept 'art,' . . . Fundamental to this idea of art is the understanding of the linguistic nature of all art propositions, be they past or present, and regardless of the elements used in their construction.’

Chasing a chair through three different registers, Kosuth asks us to try to decipher the subliminal sentences in which we phrase our experience of art.” Language, textuality, begins its ascent into art with conceptualism. Baldessari in the same room hinting ironically in a painting made up of language – What is painting… “Art is a creation of the eye and can only be hinted at with words.” Do you agree? I don’t. Look at the Kosuth.

But I digress. Back to Minimalism. Ad Reinhart attempts to produce “a pure abstract, non-objective, timeless, spaceless, chargeless, relationless, disinterested painting – an object that is self-conscious (no unconsciousness), ideal, transcendent, aware of no thing but art.” This is the key problem with minimalism, the phallus-y that the point of view is neutral, untouched by ideology, like a Platonic ideal. In the thrust toward placing the phenomenological subject–viewer in the gallery, minimalist art ignores the sexual-linguistic construction of the subject (not to mention racial, etc). Not until the mid 70s feminist art (Kruger, Levine, Kelly, etc.) does this critique materialize, but seems patently obvious looking back. Reminds me how it now seems somewhat absurd that Language poetry could remove the subject and narrative when the subject of women and people of colour, etc had not been represented, nor their stories told. All a matter of perception and timing. Just as the fact that Carl Andre’s sculpture is not on a pedestal and there is no differentiation between ordinary and sculptural space seems pretty to blasé to us now. The trick is to imagine what it would have been like to walk into a gallery in the 60s with this piece, how it upset expectations then. Or the Judd piece—you may wonder, how is it fastened? Is it a painting because it’s on the wall? It’s not on the ground, so is it sculpture? This categorization seems unnecessary now, but not then. Perception is what these artists were changing. The green lacquer on Judd’s “one thing after another” is striking, but come closer and see ordinary galvanized iron on its not so obvious sides. “A perceptual ambiguity complicates things.” (Hal Foster)… “Objects that are without any hierarchy of interest, that directly engage and interact with the particular space they occupy; objects that reveal everything about themselves, but little about the artist; objects whose subject is the viewer.” (Michael Craig-Martin)….. “There is no way you can frame it, you just have to experience it.” (Tony Smith). Like all the best poetry.

Fascinating that Carl Andre wants to “define rather than occupy space,” while Frank Stella colonizes space with the Empress of India…“What you see is [indeed] what you see” (Stella).

Love how Richard Tuttle replaces the frame with a wire, laying bare the construction of the viewing experience. Can’t help but think of his wife, amazing poet, Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge, constructing her poems on a big table by laying out fragments of language next to images and rearranging them until the picture is correct.

Robert Ryman reduces painting to bare minimum, white paint, a square, metal fastenings … pencil lines display hidden apparatus that holds painting to the wall ... more concerned with the “how” of painting’s physicality than the “what” of image, story, symbolism. Heralds the turn to process art (Eva Hesse and others) post minimalism. Again, I think Language poetry must have been influenced by (post-) minimalism, the reduction to the bare unit of meaning, the how.

Dan Flavin’s ordinary fluorescent light and metal fixtures as political “monuments” to avant-garde Russian Constructivism. Eventually the lights will burn out and have to be replaced, like all utopian ideals. I also heard that at the end of the exhibit he would take the lights back to the hardware store where he got them, but obviously this is not the case, as they are in MOMA in the Michael Ovitz (former Mr. Disney and Hollywood agent extraordinaire) Family Gallery. Seems no coincidence that Pop commercial serialism or serial commercial art is in the next room.

But first a sidebar on Fluxus, supposedly “living art” or “anti-art” beyond the gallery and sales, but still contained here in a kind of attempted archive of the repertoire. Beautiful text pieces like Dick Higgins symphony of pen and mud and machine gun, but still a sense of lifelessness and claustrophobia…The performance can’t be archived and commodified, no matter how much the Museum tries…that is its ephemeral power.

Similar stench of death in the Joseph Beuys room, the vitrines with “relics” of his performances splayed out for sale: “The unique ways Beuys formed ensembles of his work for individual collectors.” The forlorn Felt Suit on the wall, the signed photo of him striding toward us, but not his presence [and no, 40 years later We are (still, unfortunately) not the revolution]. Video of the performance is not the same as the felt action of the performance. I can’t sit through it , but it has a fitting title: I like America and America likes me. Evidently.

I wrote a draft of a poem post-MOMA trip, but since my girlfriend didn’t even “get” it, I won’t subject you to the whole thing, just the last few minimalist lines:

.........Frog Pond turns into a giant temple
.........Made of “allure.” I had to

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