Aching to know about the Bjork Retrospective at MoMA?

blacklake_09

This Sunday’s opening of the Björk Retrospective is sure to bring in swarms of fans and folks curious as to what all the hype is about.

The show draws from more than 20 years of Björk’s innovative career.  It took years for MoMA’s Chief Curator, Klaus Biesenbach to convince Björk to do this show – her chief concern as a musician was the museum being able to provide the same visceral experience one can enjoy with paintings with music at its core.

Chronologically, the exhibition begins with the release of Björk’s first solo album, Debut, and proceeds through her career up to her most recent work in 2015, including a new video and music installation commissioned especially for the Museum, Black Lake (which also appears on her new album, Vulnicura).

The experience begins in the museum’s lobby, where you’ll encounter musical instruments programmed to play music and sounds from her seventh album, Biophilia. The only one I saw during the preview was the Gravity Harp designed by Andrew Cavatorta.

The other instruments promised – a Tesla coil,  a gameleste (combination of a gamelan and a celesta) and pipe organ, will hopefully be on display by the opening of the show.

Then onto the Marron Atrium for the immersive sound and sight experience, Songlines…

It begins in a dark corridor, not unlike the corral they used during the Tim Burton retrospective. I’m sure it’s meant to entertain you while you wait to enter the actual exhibit (suitable for those long summer lines sure to come).  Monitors flank both sides of the lines, playing excerpts from a range of her concerts.

Bjork Retrospective_HAHA MAG

You’re about to take a 45-minute guided tour through her seven albums: Debut (1993), Post (1995), Homogenic (1997), Vespertine (2001), Medulla (2004), Volta (2007), and Biophilia (2011).  Think of it as a Björk concert – colored lights, transformative music, and those iconic wacky outfits.  Before you enter, you’re given a device and a headset, and asked to listen to a 2-minute introduction preparing you for the accompanying fictious biographical journey written by Icelandic writer and longtime Björk collaborator, Sjón.

Photo Mar 03, 10 49 57 AM

This is not intended to be your normal museum experience – instead of rushing through – you are supposed to pace yourself with the story that unfolds. Your device leads the way; the screens changes in time with the next chapter of the story  – the next album graphic that appears signals your entry into the next portal a’ la Björk.  Making sure there’s no confusion, each room is also denoted with the album graphic seen on your device.

Photo Mar 03, 10 51 07 AM
Here’s the deal – you can’t force people not to charge ahead, but if you shut out the distractions (difficult to do with the limited amount of space versus the number of people that might be in the room with you at any given time) and give yourself over to the imaginative story backed by classic Björk songs, the next 43 minutes should be a intimate poetic dance of words, accompanied by visual images that embody the essence of a Björk show (i.e. not Björk herself).  If you, like me, can map out college and all the years after with her music – you will geek out over the memorabilia.

I warn those who are not onboard with magical realism – this narration, coupled with the wispy, tiny voice of Icelandic actress Margrét Vilhjálmsdóttir might just come off as nonsensical storytelling.

Photo Mar 03, 10 55 40 AM

Hussein Chalayan, Turkish Cyproit, British, born 1970 Airmail Jacket, 1994/2015 Tyvek, from the cover of POST

Photo Mar 03, 10 58 39 AM

Chris Cunningham, British, born 1970 “All is Full of Love” Robots, 1999

Photo Mar 03, 11 03 11 AM

Alexander McQueen, British, 1969–2010 “Pagan Poetry” Dress, 2001 / Matthew Barney, American, born 1967 Vespertine Music Box, 2001 acrylic, brass and copper mechanical apparatus /Vespertine Live Shoes, 2001 Acrylic

Photo Mar 03, 11 08 01 AM

Hrafnhildur Arnardóttir aka Shoplifter, Icelandic, born 1969 Medulla hair piece, 2004 Human hair and mesh fabric / Alexander McQueen, British, 1969–2010 Bell Dress, 2004 Silk, metal bells

Photo Mar 03, 11 12 21 AM

Icelandic Love Corporation Wild Woman Voodoo Granny Doily Crochet, 2007/2015 Woolen yarn, wood, foam, polyester and plastic

 

Photo Mar 03, 10 52 25 AM

Bjork’s Journals containing song lyrics from around the time of Debut.

There’s a cinema space showing a chronological presentation of Björk’s music videos, it clocks in at a little over 4 hours.  Considering the time you’ll spend waiting to see the other exhibits, I’d recommend watching those babies on your big screen tv in the comfort of your own home (youtube anyone?).

Photo Mar 03, 11 23 01 AM

Instead, head over to the lower level of the Marron Atrium for, Black Lake.  Sorry to tell you – there will be more standing in line.  Our wait, however, was rewarded with a visit from Bjork – in full cactus regalia – who gave a quick thank you speech in that wonderful fantasy world voice of hers.

blacklake_Bjork MoMa Exhibit Pic

Bjork. Still from “Black Lake,” commissioned by The Museum of Modern Art, New York, and directed by Andrew Thomas Huang, 2015. Courtesy of Wellhart and One Little Indian

Hello, hard-core Björk fans, this is where the magic happens – Black Lake is a 10-minute video, commissioned by MoMA, filmed on location in Iceland.  Like most Björk productions, its ambitious and wrought with emotion.  Most already know that this song is about her ending relationship with Matthew Barney.  This is what I love about Björk – that raw space she allows you to inhabit – this was definitely a wound.

The video plays on two huge screens situated to the left and the right of the viewer, in a space made to evoke the feeling of the cavernous space she filmed most of the video inside. There are beats that resound against the walls and bounce against you like heartbeats. She sings with such anguish that at times it seems too much, being filled up with her emotion and yours.  Thank goodness for those huge gaps where the beat dies down leaving the aching to subside – only for it to begin again – for your heartbeat to start back up. There’s a part in the video where she pounds on her chest in panicked steady beats – love dies and the old self with it, to survive you must make yourself anew – it was like watching a pained resuscitation.  What’s not said (cool fact) is that she never lipsynced this – Björk sung this passionately take after take until they got it just right.

It’s not a perfect retrospective, I wish the costumes were just there instead of placed on weird Madame Tussaud statues. Instead of merely hosting videos, maybe some behind the scene workings of the albums themselves would have worked. I mean, Medulla was a triumph all in itself.  That album was created almost entirely a capella, constructed with human vocals. During the press conference, they talked extensively about her creative process – totally absent from the exhibits. I’m tempted to say that the backstory of the undertaking is far more interesting than elements of the actual show.

Needless to say, in spite of all that, I enjoyed myself.  Maybe I’m biased because I’m a huge Björk fan.  If you like nothing else about the retrospective, focus on the evolution and beauty of her music that moves you and hope that that was the point all along because after you’ve spent hours in these exhibits she remains ever the enigma.

Maybe that’s what was always intended.

COOKIE MONSTER VISITS THE MET, MOMA AND GUGGENHEIM ON HIS ART TOUR

cookiemonsterarttour

It was epic. Yesterday, Cookie Monster left Sesame Street to visit the Met, MoMA and the Guggenheim on his art tour. Not to mention that in support of his tour, Big Bird finally tweeted from his account, and the interchange between he and Cookie couldn’t have been more adorbs…


I mean, I was so excited about the tour that I had to pull over to the side of the road when the first Instagram surfaced of Cookie Monster in the MET.  There’s no denying that people who grew up with the characters from Jim Henson’s Workshop have a hard time acknowledging that they are merely… nope I won’t say it.  Let’s just say there was no shock that people losing their stuff while cozying up with Cookie for their Instagram posts. This is by far one of my favorites…

Best. Job. Ever. #cookiemonster #metmuseum

A photo posted by meteveryday (@meteveryday) on

Sesame Street is prepping for Cookie Monster’s PBS Kids movie special “The Cookie Thief,” airing next week. I can’t get enough of the concept “In ‘The Cookie Thief,’ a cookie art museum has just opened on Sesame Street. Surrounded by beautiful cookie paintings, like “Girl With the Cookie Earring” and the “Muncha Lisa,” Cookie Monster and his friends feel as if they’re in a whole new world. But when art suddenly starts to disappear, Cookie Monster quickly becomes a suspect. Can Cookie Monster clear his name? Will they find the missing art in time or will Cookie Monster be banished from the museum forever?”

Look who stopped by to see some art! It’s Cookie Monster, all the way from @sesamestreet. #CookieArtTour

A photo posted by MoMA The Museum of Modern Art (@themuseumofmodernart) on

Amuse yourself and browse through the photo of Cookie checking out VanGogh, Degas and Cezanne during his tour at @ModernMuseumofart @Guggenheim @metropolitan @sesamestreet.

Yes, Cookie Monster, it’s the real “Starry Night”! #CookieArtTour A photo posted by MoMA The Museum of Modern Art (@themuseumofmodernart) on

*photo courtesy of the Guggenheim Instagram account.

MoMa Björk Retrospective Induces Mini Heart Palps

moma_bjork_debut

moma_bjork_biophilia_large

The first time I heard Björk, I was sitting in the backseat of a friend’s little Toyota.  The car was chugging up a steep road in Stroudsburg, PA, and I thought the voice coming out of the speakers was surely some majestical wispy woodland nymph that only my mountain region friends knew about.

Hearing her voice was like being on colorful glittered flakes of psychedelic drugs I have never done; maybe the heart palps just belong to me (sincerely doubt it).

So excuse me while I scream into my hands, regain composure and then tell you that MoMA is mounting a full-scale retrospective dedicated to the work of the multi-faceted Icelandic Queen, Bjork.  The exhibition, simply titled, Björk will focus on 20 years of the artist’s projects including her seven full-length albums —”to chronicle her career through sound, film, visuals, instruments, objects, costumes (aka. the swan dress), and performance.  The installation will present a narrative, both biographical and imaginatively fictitious, cowritten by Björk and the acclaimed Icelandic writer Sjón. Björk’s collaborations with video directors, photographers, fashion designers, and artists.”  The exhibition will culminate with a newly commissioned, immersive music and film experience conceived and realized with director Andrew Thomas Huang and 3-D design leader Autodesk.

I’m hoping one of the exhibit highlights will be getting to play with her experimental app, Biophilia on a larger platform. Biophilia is the first app to enter MoMA’s collection, and one of the best apps to ever suck up 725MB of my iPhone storage. MoMA’s acquisition of Biophilia (2011), showcases the museum’s leadership in forward-thinking digital cataloging.  The app was a gift of Björk and her record label, One Little Indian.

The hybrid software app was developed by Björk in collaboration with M/M Paris, and Scott Snibbe.  Within the app, users can navigate a three-dimensional constellation made up of 10 separate apps, one for each song from the Biophilia album.  Each app allows for four options – a look at the composition of the song, play the score (can you say Bjork karaoke), colorful song animation created by Stephen Malinowski, and the fourth option shows you the lyrics of the song.

My favorite incarnation of the app can be seen in the Biophilia Educational Program, a project adopted by select Scandinavian Schools “designed to inspire children to explore their own creativity and to learn about music and science through new technologies.”

Björk will be on view at MoMA from March 8 through June 7, 2015.

Björk Website

* Photo Credit: Björk, Debut, 1993. Credit: Photography by Jean Baptiste Mondino. Image courtesy of Wellhart Ltd & One Little Indian; Björk, Biophilia, 2011. Credit: By M/M (Paris) Photographed by Inez van Lamsweerde & Vinoodh Matadin. Image courtesy of Wellhart Ltd & One Little Indian

 

Kids Eye: Tatianna

IMAG0048

We’re reintroducing our series ‘Kids Eye’, where we spend time hanging out with an Art-tastic kid. Here’s a look back at our very first art kid interview…

A while ago I came up with an idea to spend time observing an art-tastic kid in their environment.  Can I experience art again through the eyes of a child?  In the process, can I introduce them to something new?  I’ll talk to them about their interests, and maybe even convince them to take a field trip with me. The goal is to learn from one another.  

All I had to do is borrow someone’s kid, not as easy as it seems – but I got one.

Tatianna lives in Pittsburgh, PA and started second grade this past September.  Due to the short attention span of the little one, I broke my visit up into two days. This is our mini story.

100_1441

Day One:

Tatianna invites me into a small studio space that she shares with her grandmother. Her side of the space is filled with colorful paper lanterns, tiny chairs, and an easel.  Various ceramic pots lace makeshift shelving, filled with paints, brushes, scraps of paper, ribbon, pipe cleaners, and other found objects. Paint splattered tutu’s and shirts hang from pegs above her easel.

IMAG0048

IMAG0026

IMAG0030

IMAG0057 

Thank you for letting me come watch you paint.

You’re welcome; I like company when I paint.

Tatianna, how old are you?

I’m Seven.

And have you thought about what you want to be when you grow up?

Art Teacher.

That’s cool. When I was in school I always looked forward to art class. Do you have a favorite artist?

Yup, the Illustrator from the Pinkalicious books, Victoria Khan.

I’m impressed that you know illustrator’s name.

My grandmother always tells me the name of the writer and illustrator before she reads.

I see. I notice you have the radio on. Do you always paint to music?

Sometimes…I wanted to paint today because I saw that movie Frida Halo. It inspired me.

Oh, you mean Frida Kahlo.

That’s what I said.

Sorry. So how does it make you feel when you paint?

I feel great, it gives me a chance to enjoy myself and let myself go. I can make whatever I feel, I mean the feeling is so good. Though some days I get upset when I feel my art isn’t coming out very good.

Do you have any other hobbies?

I’m learning to skateboard. It’s a mini one, but when I get older I’ll get a big kid one.

I was wondering if you’d like to go to a museum with me tomorrow.

Dinosaurs…?

Art.

That would be alright.

 —

Day Two

Tatianna and I hop a train bound for New York City. We’re going to visit the Museum of Modern Art.  I finally had a kid with me; a pretty good excuse to check out the museums kids space – The Shape Lab.

Tell me, what do you enjoy about museums?

It’s exciting to be around things that are created by other people. I really like children’s museums because you can touch stuff.

Once we arrived at MOMA I got excited; she got excited.  As it turns out, there were very different reasons for our glee – Tatianna had never been through a revolving door before. Five revolutions later and we were ready to take on the Shape Lab.  She immediately makes a beeline toward the 3D shape magnetic wall.  The wall is broken down into four different stations where kids can explore how shapes are used in art. There are activity cards hanging next to each station, so I challenge her to finish all the activities listed.

 

After the Lab we go to some of the recommended kid spots:

This painting is titled One.  It was done by an artist named, Jackson Pollack.

Hey, he copied my style.

What do you think about this one, it’s called Broadway Boogie Woogie by Piet Mondrian? 

It’s making my eyes bleed together.

That’s about the time that Tatianna suggested that we walk through the permanent collection and rename pieces.  So we did, along with several guards.  

After about thirty mintues of renaming we were tired and hungry, so we decided to call it a day. But not before Tatianna recorded a message for the lovely MoMA employee, Kristen who’d been friendly to her during her stay at the Shape Lab.

You can see that and other video clips from our weekend with this link to our Vimeo account.

The Rain Room

Looks like I have another reason to visit the Rain Room over at MoMA (Museum of Modern Art). We were lucky enough to have a preview of the room the night of the MoMA PS1 Expo1 Opening Party. But alas, we lost our shots. So we’re giving you some amazing shots that folks have been taking while inside Random International’s exhibit.

tumblr_mmst0bjcbB1qa6dtuo1_1280
tumblr_mmst0bjcbB1qa6dtuo3_1280
tumblr_mmst0bjcbB1qa6dtuo4_1280
tumblr_mmst0bjcbB1qa6dtuo5_1280

The Rain Room is interactive – you step into this intense, expansive room with the roaring sound of rain coming down all around you, yet the installation’s sensors sense your movements and shut of the water around you – creating a magical effect, giving you the feel that you wield some control over the weather – not to mention, it makes for some pretty decent photo ops.

The exhibit runs until July 28th and is well worth the wait in line to experience.

image credit: artnerdnewyork, mymodernmet.

Tilda Swinton Naps at MoMA

2013_03_tilda1

Tilda Swinton is accomplishing what I’d love to do on the average day – take a nap at work. The actress best known for her androgynous looks has been on display at MoMa in a performance piece she calls, “The Maybe”.

Museum goers were surprised to find Swinton supposedly sleeping inside a enclosed glass box, furnished with only a white mattress, pillow, carafe of water and a glass. She sleeps during the museums open hours – some have said they’ve only seen her move or turn but never rouse.

“The Maybe” has been scheduled for six more performances throughout the year, though no one seems to know exactly when. Swinton has performed this piece in previous years: 1995 at London’s Serpentine Gallery and 1996 at Museo Barracco in Rome.

photo by (Jen Chung / Gothamist)

Pop Art your Valentine’s Day

Converse-All-Star-Robert-Indiana

It’s almost that time – Valentine’s that is. Chances are you’re still looking for that special something. Here in Philly it could be tickets for the Love Train which takes you for a ride on our elevated train past the 50 love-themed rooftops murals.

Or, you could pop art your Valentine’s Day with some Robert Indiana inspired swag. Here are some of our favorite gifts inspired by the famous sculpture in Philadelphia’s Love Park. After all, art is a beautiful expression of our inward desires.

 

The Love Hook Urban Outfitters

love hook

 

 

 

Jazz your macbook up with Love laptop stickers – Hu2

hu2_mr2010_computer_loveindianamacbook13_copy

Love Paperweight- Amazon

love paperweight

The Robert Indiana Love Converse Collection

Only way you’re getting your hands on these puppies is to run straight to Ebay.

Converse-All-Star-Robert-Indianaconverse-robert-indiana-love-frontconverse-robert-indiana-chuck-taylor-06

Love Vintage Letters – Use Vintage Goods

Moderngirlblog got all modern and gothic creating this unique design piece with vintage industrial letters. I’m not saying you have to go all out – but come on…this would earn you serious brownie points.

LOVE-sign

Love Mirror – Pussy Home Boutique

 love mirror

Love Pillow - Gumps

The iconic LOVE graphic by Robert Indiana, translated in this needlepoint pillow made of soft woolen yarns stitched in red, black and ivory.

lovepillow2

Love Cookies - Whipped Bake Shop, Philly PA

 Zoe Lukas, an artist and baker living in Philadelphia, PA makes these made to order Love Cookies. You can contact her through her website, whippedbakeshop.com or at her terrific Etsy Shop.

love cookies

Last, but not least…

The iconic LOVE Print – MOMA Gift Shop

72970_A2_Robert_Indiana_LOVE_16x20

Within Context: Marina vs. Your History is Not Our History

by Lynn Maliszewski

Would you blindly climb a mountain, ignorant of terrain and weather patterns? In idealizing a hike outside of these factors they become obstacles, threats to the success of the trip. Such romanticized endeavors fester with prickly inflexibility and potential danger. The framework of an artwork’s production and its context can serve as a valuable source of knowledge like the minutiae of a journey, imparting meaning into seemingly sterile viewing experiences. It adds depth to shallow indicators of academia in exchange for the intricacies of Self. A foundational understanding of art, at its best, can reveal an inescapability of purpose, a concentrated reduction of the most subtle flavor. In Marina Abramovic’s The Artist is Present at the MoMA and Your History is Not Our History at Haunch of Venison, context tames the deceit of transient viewing.

The Artist Is Present conjures tendrils of consistency amid Abramovic’s chaotic, aggressive thirty year career. She molts fearlessly, inviting corporeal demise in favor of ultimate metaphysical rejuvenation. Her early performances challenge physicality with gross force. The serially numbered ‘Rhythm’ series dominates the first room of the exhibition, revealing brazen confrontations with her epidermal armor. ‘Rhythm 2’ (1974) chemically dissolved the unity of mind and body. An instructional guide and two black and white photographs serve as placeholders at MoMA for the preceding performance. The instructions reveal her intentional ingestion of a catatonic remedy and the subsequent intake of an oppositional drug for schizophrenia. The two photographs relay her initial loss of control quelled by depleted consciousness and existential awareness, a metamorphosis from a tense, deranged caricature to a diluted puppet. The performance ended when the drugs wore off over seven hours after its inception. Abramovic flagrantly oscillates between self-imposed mental and physical absolutes, surrendering to momentum.

Self-imposed hazard succumbs to an audience in ‘Rhythm 0’ (1974). Provided a table of seventy-two objects meant to please or annihilate the artist, the initially timid audience was encouraged to investigate carnal motivations. Equipped with a loaded gun and makeup, chains and a glass of wine, knives and flowers, Abramovic had one singular plea: “I don’t want to die…I want to experience the edge and how much I can take of this edge.” This request is laughable; how much can any one person take of an extreme in either direction without being enveloped in chuckles or antagonism? Embarrassment and vulnerability evaporate in her acceptance of the extreme and its consequences, dislodging the veil of vanity. She strips herself of control yet claims full responsibility for the process. Her earlier work preserves a stoic meditation on the discontinuity of mind and body, ego and soul, in daring masochism.

A selfless emphasis on singularity of task thrived in Abramovic’s creative and romantic partnership with Ulay from 1976 to 1989. They synchronized innumerable endurance exercises both publicly and privately in an attempt to merge their disparate energies into one impetus. Subtleties of the inarticulate body and harmonized mind arise in rigorous repetition. In utilizing “tension v. release, trust v. abandonment, closeness v. isolation, connectedness v. isolation” for thematic inspiration, literal incarnations of these relationships compete with ethereality. This period finds the greatest number of re-performances at MoMA, marrying the radiating energy of Abramovic’s work both past and present. Stripped individuals flank the barest of doorways in ‘Imponderabilia’ (1977/2010). The energy of lust and the inevitability of passage through the lovers in their original performance, situated in the only entrance/exit of the gallery in Kassel that first hosted the performance, is a jarring scenario. The MoMA’s re-do provided a similarly sensual experience, utterly dulled by their inclusion of an alternate entry. The tight squeeze between the bound unmentionables is reminiscent of adolescent attempts to devise meaningful relationships between Barbie dolls, unable to conquer the nuances of intent despite imaginative physical proximity. It was like squeezing into a time-warp, incubated by intent for only a fleeting moment.

Imponderabilia_s
Marina Abramović and Ulay
Imponderabilia. Originally performed in 1977 for 90 min. Galleria Comunale d’Arte Moderna, Bologna
Still from 16mm film transferred to video (black and white, sound). 52:16 min.
© 2010 Marina Abramović. Courtesy Marina Abramović and Sean Kelly Gallery/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Reperformed continuously in shifts throughout the exhibition Marina Abramović: The Artist Is Present at MoMA, March 14-May 31, 2010

Ambramovic’s work with Ulay appeals to the moment an audience must submit to the pure energy of action, of a stare, scream or slap. Passivity and awkwardness are traded for patient mergers with environmental aura. In their often silent endeavors, one must conquer boredom to obtain meditative simultaneity outside of emotional baggage. The agonizing conquest ‘Expansion of Space’ (1977), their first performance in front of a large audience in several months, consists of the couple colliding with respective pillars running along tracks on the gallery’s ceiling. The columns absorb the brunt of the impact, moving from the center to the periphery of the gallery. The grainy black and white tape of the nude performance throbs with grunts and thumps of successive smashes. Each run is neutralized by restarting midway between the two columns, back to back, providing a reset button to muster the energy for the next drive. Marina perseveres through the action longer than Ulay, convinced the column had not yet reached its final destination. Finding a serene, purified energy, she emerges as the tyrant of her corporeal shell in the midst of the full-frontal stings. There is a cheekiness in the simplicity of her work with Ulay, in their attempt to proliferate mental triumphs over physical indecency, confronting assumptions of pain and pleasure, sanity and lunacy.

THEHOUSEWITHOCEANVIEW_s

Marina Abramović
The House with the Ocean View. Performed in 2002 for 12 days at Sean Kelly Gallery, New York
Three-channel video with props (color, sound). Duration variable
Photo: Attilio Maranzano. © 2010 Marina Abramović. Courtesy the artist and Sean Kelly Gallery/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Later work molds the soul, kneads it, with less of an emphasis on aggravation of her temple. She dissects Balkan folklore and gravitates toward the humor in literal translations of traditional pageantry. Blood, bones, and genitalia find favor in her video pieces from the 1990s and 2000s, channeling contradictions between mortal and fantastical allusions.  Her most recent live performances revolve around relative solitude, singularity of scenario and event. In ‘House with the Ocean View’ (2002) she makes haste to “change [her] energy field” in a self-imposed twelve-day famine in which both literal and mental sustenance are denied. Silent conversation with strangers is her singular source of nourishment. She is always alone in her mission and process but not necessarily lonely. Abramovic’s performance on the second floor atrium of the current exhibition, ‘The Artist is Present,’ is a similar exercise with fewer props and more obstacles: no food or water for the open hours of the museum, layered with limited bathroom capabilities. Sitting still in a crowd and constraining all movement as complete strangers sit at arm’s length to peer into your soul is an arduous spectacle. The beauty lies in seeing rather than merely looking, in realizing that a conversation still exists outside of words and ultimately surrendering to that melded energy. Despite the intangibility of her experiment Abramovic is completely engaged, concentrating the disentangled energy into a final statement. The value is in the essence rather than aesthetic worth of her performance.

Artist is Present is a grandiose sigh, an introspective showing that provides more substance to what could have been written off as ‘hippy-shit performance art’ by scared and scarred audiences. Similar relief can be found in Haunch of Venison’s Your History is Not Our History, curated by David Salle and Richard Phillips, in regards to the inspirational yet overplayed subject of the East Village in the 1980s. The show attacks the local scene from a contributor (Salle) and interloper’s (Phillips) point of view to find works of enduring influence that were as memorable and shattering as a first cigarette. The show presents irreducible highlights of the era, breaking from the assumption that every exhibition of work from the 80s has to be a cheesy showing of predictable neon splatters and anti-establishment hoopla.

The experimental vigor found in these works stems from personal extremes fused with relentless freedom of practice. Christopher Wool’s ‘Untitled’ (1988) utilizes industrial material on aluminum, inducing a suede finish to the decadent all-over, wrought iron design. Splotches and areas of faded color incarcerate the artist’s hand despite the droning repetition and attempt at uniformity. The tainted pattern accounts for beautiful disasters in ‘safe’ modes of production while holding any type of blueprint in contempt. Ross Bleckner’s ‘Fence’ (1985) isolates and ensnares the viewer simultaneously in its optical disorientation. Approximately seven-feet tall, the smeared rods against the menacing slate gray, deep cerulean blue, and midnight green sky is befuddling. Realistic pinnacles atop the fence spark severe bewilderment in the scope and depth of the scene. A black rectangle in the center of the image pops the bubble of fantasy as aggressively as the columns lure you in. It’s an optical playground, leaving viewers swinging from the gate, sliding down the poles, and leaping into the murky void.  

32592

Donald Baechler
Bauer Grunwald, 1989
acrylic and fabric collage on canvas
102 x 115 in. (259.1 x 292.1 cm.)
Courtesy of Cheim & Read Gallery, New York

Emotional extremes, loneliness in particular, facilitate restlessness and reassessments of physicality’s discontents. Donald Baechler’s ‘Bauer Grunwald’ (1989) depicts a sketchy, flat lady with the anonymity of a CIA agent and the frame of an emaciated bell. Her basic features and attire suggest a spoiled femininity. Plump, floating vegetables accompany her on the canvas, reverberating between the second and third dimension. The rendering seems somewhat bitter, placing more life in the uprooted veggies than the tense, splotchy figure. Or this image could be more of a deviation from the pleasures of maturity, reconnecting with childhood memory and the nourishment to be found in nature. It conveys a stage of life before friends, before a real understanding of self outside of a scraggly self-portrait with primitive facial features and limbs.

32445

Robert Gober
Sleeping Man/Hanging Man, 1989
silkscreen on wallpaper
30 x 178 7/8 in. (76.2 x 454.3 cm.)
Private collection, New York

Robert Gober’s ‘Sleeping Man/Hanging Man’ (1989) similarly extracts an array of interpretations, although a bit more radical. The screen-printed wallpaper consists of only three columns and seven rows. A white man sleeping on his stomach as seen from above alternates with the frontal view of a lynched black man hanging limply from a tree An odd sense of calm exists in quiet slumber interspersed with imposed death, seething amid a baby blue sky and emerald grass. The tension of history contradicts the tranquil interaction on paper, scorning the festering plague of racism and its mutations. The expectant peace equated with both sleep and death amplifies cynical overtones and situates them in the same realm. They become mutually beneficial, indicators of lost time. The seduction of the formal composition overshadows a lonely sphere of reduced components: black and white, sleep and death.

32594

Jean-Michel Basquiat
Untitled (Crocodile), 1984
oil and paper collage on canvas
21 3/4 x 18 in. (55 x 45.5 cm.)
Collection of Nina Clemente

Despite the curator’s attachment to the images, they supersede generalities in that they are “critical weapons to contest meaning,” irreducible punctuation that insists upon fresh linkages. Glances through the entry portals of each gallery and their outskirts, also holding several pieces, evoke fluid conversation, tantalizing angles, and new groupings. In Jean-Michel Basquiat’s ‘Untitled (Crocodile)’ (1984), for example, a harsh, black, indistinguishable face floats ominously above a scraggly, blue crocodile head. The piece is situated in the second gallery near a doorway among pieces by Francesco Clemente and Nan Goldin. A diagonal glance through the arch spears Baechler’s ‘Bauer Grunwald’ in one of the furthest galleries. Both pieces utilize collage to augment texture, with Baechler using terry cloth dish towels and Basquiat butcher paper. Basquiat’s aggressive purgatory rivals Baechler’s morose channeling of the regressive psyche and reveals two disparate realities elucidated by relations to Self. Basquiat’s character is camouflaged but refuses to hide from the imposing reptile below it. Scribbled jargon accompanies the carnivore, notably an emboldened passage listing ‘CARBON’ several times, rousing pollution concerns and thoughts of chemicals reeking animalistic havoc on the environment. The mug echoes like the Cheshire cat, unassumingly entitled and sullenly confident despite a cloaked vulnerability. Baechler’s piece, in comparison, depicts a removed existence. Floating in blissful emptiness, Baechler’s figure is graced with the bodily necessities of life yet no mention of it otherwise. Vibrant fruits and vegetables bob within her grasp but she can do no more than stare alarmingly at the audience. The voice of the image blossoms from the tension between the figure and its inability to coalesce with the nature at such a close proximity. They exist on two disparate planets, deliriously isolated despite their confrontation. Jeff Koons’ ‘Aqualung’ (1985), an airtank completely void of function despite being true to form, finds itself in the same thread of view in the furthest gallery. He treats the object as an individual, unique in craftsmanship and purpose. Separating the aesthetics of the object from the assumed textures and sensational attachments, Koons obscures the character of the original object and births a peculiar double-negative newborn. The bronze ‘lung’ could not be further from what it is despite its literal compatibility.

The layout of the exhibition presents a humbled remembrance of thematic principles and presentation rather than notoriety, allowing the imagery to recover its original tenacity.32678

Barbara Kruger
Untitled, 1987
photographic silkscreen on vinyl
109 x 210 in. (276.9 x 533.4 cm.)
Courtesy of The Fisher Landau Center For Art, New York

Barbara Kruger’s ‘Untitled’ (1987) is one such example. At over seventeen feet long and about nine feet tall, the silkscreen on vinyl makes the deadpan statement “we don’t need another hero” in bold white text across a red strip. Behind the printed band are two children; one flexes ferociously while peering back at her friend, who’s leaning over her shoulder poking the bicep in abhorrence. The piece is situated on a wall in the slender passageway between the first large gallery and the second. Like a latex bodysuit in really any context, it is confrontational, magnetic, and fitted. It reaffirms Kruger’s play on the confrontation and aggression in print media of the 70s and 80s. Her work registers in one superficial scan as a gallant strike against consumerism as it syncs with the tactics of advertisements’ visual simplicity and forceful language in large sizes. The intimacy of the presentation within the exhibition, however, reveals Kruger’s secure technical hand. The graininess of the two children, molds of post-World War II childhood, is reminiscent of a fading memory. The androgyny of the flexing figure adds to the cloudiness of the image, holding the implications of the image in the balance. Is Kruger defacing the entitlement and premature empowerment of women in the 1940’s? Is it meant to emasculate, to depict unwarranted gender envy at an early age? Does it anticipate the monstrosity of youthful competition in the guise of national ambition? Stupendously obscure in its simplicity, the piece allows one to revisit Kruger’s pioneering, confrontational origins.

Dismantling narrow-minded opinions on the 1980s, Your History… benefits from the inimitable context imposed by Salle and Phillips. These works were fertilizer for damp earth teeming with seeds of potential. They are erratic and brazen, able to reaffirm their originality with decided wit while allowing new conclusions as they relate to the present to blossom. The curatorial vision is matchless, concentrated nostalgia, encouraging a reassessment of Salle and Phillips’ current practice in comparison. Similarly, Artist is Present allows the grander picture of Abramovic’s practice to simmer. She lays the foundation for selflessness in performance, utilizing the soul as grounds for testing the body’s physical capacities. Although the pomp of a retrospective seems mildly contradictory, the energy she brings to the museum in her present performance and recollections of performances past is haltingly dynamic. Likewise, Your History…depletes the egos of the East Village for recognition outside of reputation and sows fertile ground for forward thinking. In revisiting what we thought we knew, both shows empty assumptions to spur conversation in light of the present. They take on an independent energy ripe for adolescent appetites and preach to their original worth in the face of reinterpretation. The works are given room to breathe and mature outside of the artists’ aims. The malleable works speak comfortably for themselves, expanding outside of context.