25 July 2014

What's up

NYC: MoMA's retrospective of Lygia Clark includes her 1968 installation 'The House is the Body' (right), in a way the quintessential Penetrable of the era, wherein one walks into the "Penetration" room as a sperm in a room full of balloons, of which my body mass caused many to escape into the "Ovulation" room until you get into a "Expulsion" room of yarn and mirrors disfiguring your image. Roberta Smith's dismissively calling the work "laughable" in the NY Times is an example of how some of the critical support for amiable folks like Donald Judd like Smith's only drags the artists down by creating an either/or that the they didn't choose. Smith, first of all, accuses the work of lacking verisimilitude as a representation of a woman's experience of childbirth without taking the time to read the card next to it that explains it's not about that, accuses the curators of letting it be "reverentially presented by itself on the fourth floor" in a "Lygia, is that her name? She left this in the hall where the guests can see it" sort of way, then concludes a review untroubled by the historical tradition she is supposed to be writing about by suggesting, perhaps after a midtown lunch spent slapping together a few paragraphs complaining it didn't agree with the Minimalist theory she picked up at the Whitney, that going through it again with the audio guide makes her like it a bit more. Clark was not only making geometric sculptures long before Judd began to, but when Judd made his first sculptures she had already moved onto her tactile works that allowed the visitor to partially 'manipulate' them, to use a term from Oiticica's 1974 "New Objectivity" manifesto which contrasts the Supersensorial works from what he terms the 'semantic' reception of Minimalist sculpture, "to 'communicate' something which.. is fundamental.. large-scale, not for an elite reduced to 'experts,' but even 'against' this elite, with the proposition of unfinished, 'open' works." Could Ariella Burdick at Financial Times reasonably be called an expert? "The encounter group meets the neo-primitive ritual, giving birth, as it were, to a groovy mysticism. That shaggy ethos has not aged well and, like almost everything else in this arid show, seems almost brutally dated." At FT the groovy Sixties were spent intentionally misreporting the Gulf of Tonkin incident and the wars and military governments to follow, which has aged so well that James Petras said a few months ago "The Financial Times should change its name to the Military Times."

The starting point of South American Constructivism is Argentina after the Revolution of '43 freed expression slightly, followed by architectural works that complimented the economic expansion in Venezuela during the Pérez Jiménez dictatorship of the 50's, art more to the liking of FT than the influential critic Marta Traba (1974) "it is true that I deem the Venezuelan kinetic art (I am referring to.. geometric abstraction, Concrete art..) to be a sort of official art that has proved convenient for the ruling classes and the economic powers since it caters as much to their ideology as to their snobbery. It is true that I have repeated and hammered this incessantly, in an open campaign, because I believe that in our countries ideas can no longer be solely expressed, instead they have to be fought for tooth and nail so some minimal attention can be devoted to them. this does not mean that I have stopped appreciating kinetic art.. my openly admitted admiration for.. [Donald] Judd should prove this.. In this space odyssey (of the ruling classes representation of progress) it is obvious that the present is being erased, with increasing force, and the contempt for the past is constantly growing... a society that embarks on such comic book futurism disconnects itself from its problems, and that nothing could be more convenient for its rulers than the projection of their people onto the backdrop of the future, where everything enters a context as Utopian as it is harmless."

Fernando Guillar's 1959 Neo-Concrete Manifesto cited Merleau-Ponty's denunciation of "the concrete rationalists who still think of human beings as machines.." to say "We do not think of art as a 'machine' or as an 'object,' but as a quasi-corpus' (quasi-body).. which can be only understood phenomenologically.. a work of art transcends mechanical space.." paving the way for Oiticica, Clark, and Lygia Pape's Sensorial works of the mid-60s. The point of departure of Merleau-Ponty's Phenomenology of Perception is his exposition of "Sensation" which Husserl set forth in 1907's Thing and Space, both phenomenologists prioritizing tactile sense perceptions; in 1965 Clark writes about her Bichos ("Beasts" as imperfectly translated, metal sculptures the spectator is encouraged to touch, pictured left) "a total, existential relationship can be established between you and him." Both Husserl and Merleau-Ponty studied Buddhism and were likely influenced by the discourses in the Brahmajala Sutta when Buddha describes "the relishing of sensations, the danger of them, the release from them." In the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta, as described by William Hart "four dimensions of reality are common to every human being: the physical aspects of body and sensation, the psychic aspects of mind and its content. They provide.. the four vantage points for observing the human phenomenon." All four dimensions are covered in Phenomenology of Perception, which cites the Existentialist Heidegger (student of Husserl's) in support of his assertions while quibbling with Heidegger's notion of time and conveniently ignoring Sein und Dasein.

Her son's film O Mundo de Lygia Clark documents her movement into interactive works in which the viewer becomes a participant, which began around the time of the Bichos and continued for three decades while she would "abandon" art for long stretches of time to practice therapy. In the MoMA show, which employs "facilitators" to enact and at times invite visitors to join in, the film is shown in fragments in on different walls and I first saw the footage of her walking on the beach before the show opened and was much entranced. The device at 2:00 is a tube that you are to twist into a circle and hold where it is joined so that the air can go in and out. At 3:30 is the rock on top of an inflated plastic bag that is to suggest pregnancy when held against the chest amongst other things. At 5:00 is the sensorial work "Cannibal" (c. 1973) in which the blindfolded participants eat fruit out of the pocket of someone lying on the ground, mindful of Oswald de Andrade's 1928 essay "Cannibal Manifesto." "..they who came were not crusaders. The were fugitives from a civilization that we are devouring.. In order to transform them into totem." At 8:30 is a plastic bag full of water and small shells which was made available in the Cullen Education Center. I was told it was good to put over the ear, and indeed it was as I liked to bend sideways at the waist with the sound of the shells sliding back and forth above it. From 13:30 for a few minutes is 1974's "Elastic Net." At 24:50 is "Anthropophagic slobber."

As Claude Lévi-Strauss' 1949 essay "The Effectiveness of Symbols" compares the work of a shaman and a psychoanalyst, the therapeutic methods of Clark, who lived in Paris after 1968, resemble those of Lévi-Strauss' shamans: "The shaman plays the same dual role as the psychoanalyst. A prerequisite role - that of the listener for the psychoanalyst and of orator for the shaman - establishes a direct relationship with the patient's conscious and an indirect relationship with the unconscious.. The patient suffering from neurosis eliminates an individual myth by facing a 'real' psychoanalyst; the native woman in childbed overcomes a true organic disorder by identifying with a 'mythically transmuted' shaman.. the shamanic cure seems to be the exact counterpart to the psychoanalytic cure, but with an inversion of all the elements.. in one case, the patient constructs an individual myth with elements drawn from his past; in the other case, the patient receives from the outside a social myth which does not correspond to a former personal state.. the psychoanalyst listens, whereas the shaman speaks." The shamans' use of a synthetic rather than analytical mode resembles the literary workshops of Bhanu Kapil, heavily influenced by Clark, and CA Conrad, who occasionally recounts his considerable childhood trauma but pursues what could be called mythic transmutations in groups, setting aside his often thoughtful, original literary analysis for other times. Clark mostly created these relational works in solitude, one of the reasons they appear incongruous to socialized behavior, though many of the ideas acted on came through the pipeline of her artistic milieu, and the synthetic nature of her training in architecture, reinforced by Concretism, may have prodded her in that direction, away from the analytical.

I particpated in "Life Structures" in which each participant was to get on the floor and tie rubber bands in knots emerging from a single rubber band in two arm-like elastic limbs extending out, exchange the limbs, and dance and climb inside as the circle of rubber bands in the middle gets smaller, which resembles a Catalan Sardahna in some ways (only with purses to the side) as well as the notion that each participant's thought and essence was a spoke on a wheel or limb of a tree. I came late as I followed my attentions to the Gauguin prints in what seemed like performative down time in Camp Lygia, then I never developed a remembered system for tying the rubber band knot making me rather slow at the task as I focused rather on observing as many aspects of what was happening as possible in an irreverent reverence or vice versa; my inclination to dance or move within the knot was hampered by visiting the Halal Guys across the street so as to not get hungry in Taniguchi's floor plan (discussed further below). People spoke different languages but there was a rare sense of communication between us. A stodgy couple selected me to ask what the deal was and I shrugged my shoulders, which the facilitators seemed to like. The guard, a Trinidadian country girl who gave me a full run down on the best places to get Pelau in the boroughs, let participants touch most works but to my delight enforced the no photos whatsoever rule strictly. I felt more grounded in the analytical than most, observing perhaps Buddhistic non-attachment to O Mundo de Lygia and the world that was not her, about which Gauguin's illustrations were in closest proximity.

Dubuffet, Cinq et un six
Amid the summer group shows is - sort of a group show - where Acquavella pairs Dubuffet's portraits and "inventories of terrain" with those of his follower Miquel Barceló whose white paintings resembling abstractions reference a specific natural or architectural object: "'abstract' as I said before, means 'to come from.' (Riopelle)" Dubuffet is the last portraitist I like and the small selection here contains some gems, whereas in the room of "Texturologies" Barceló the pupil stole the show for me.  Gagosian's Ed Ruscha room has a variety of his works for two more months including some interesting photos and they have the some dude's readymades there til August 8.

Chicago:  If you missed the Magritte show at MoMA you're better off seeing it here (til Oct 13), as it not only unlike NY "marks the first time since they were hung in [Edward] James’ Wimpole Street house that these three radically different works (“On the Threshold of Liberty,” which is in the Art Institute’s collection, plus “The Red Model” and “Youth Illustrated”), have been brought together," not only because the lighting recalls the dark main room of 1938's Exposition Internationale du Surréalisme in which the viewers were given flashlights, not only because there are other works here that were not at MoMA, but the way the pathway leads to rooms that feature a single work recalls a great museum of old... NY MoMA before they renovated in favor of thin, crowded hallways leading to vast rooms with masterpieces and visitors jostling and distracted.  Remember when you went down that corridor and the de Chiricos were there all by themselves? well.. it's sort of recalled in the Art Institute's Magritte show.

DC: A week remains of the Mexican Cultural Institute's display of Octavio Paz artist books, which contains works by Motherwell, Cage, Twombly, Tapies, and Tamayo.  To my liking there are several works on paper by Gunther Gerzso, Paz' wife's collages which are quite good, and illustrations of Hanuman creating grammar.. Free, air conditioned, and a Roberto Cueva del Río mural going up the stairs.

Philly: The curators have yet to endorse my theory that being hired to do the Minotaure cover in 1933 brought on Picasso's Minotaur phase, but you can't argue with the Vollard Suite, which is only up til August 3rd.

Boston: The African North of Brazil is represented in a small room adjoining the Sargents in works where the lines between religious iconography, domestic life, and imagination are unclear.  Sense a geographical theme here?

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