Snippets: USA, Mar 2017

Notes at SFMOMA: Fun exit by getting lost in a Richard Serra construct, although a so-so permanent hang offers little surprise. One gallery dedicated to Alexander Calder presents a great range beyond the well-known mobiles, and provides visual evidence that “the exceptional quality of his sculpture was often the result of its unique combination of precision and chance.” Also poignant was a room full of Warhols, where one is surrounded by re-printed portraits of dead celebrities, as if visual immortality is preserved in an unnatural and ironic (‘Pop’) state. I learned about Martin Puryear from John Yau’s reviews of the artist, and it was a pleasure to finally see the fully-formed artworks.

Martin Puryear – Untitled (1990)

Kerry James Marshall retrospective at MOCA: Commenting upon “the presence and absence of blackness”, “Mastry” presents important works by one well-known American contemporary painter. From early self-portraits that emphasize blackness, to crowded and symbolic compositions, to his mature style of figures populating lively scenes, Kerry James’ major series of paintings are shown alongside smaller projects and photographic installations. ‘De Style’ and ‘School of Beauty and Culture’ are wonderful examples that amalgamate daily life with visual tropes, while the powerful triptych ‘Heirlooms and Accessories’ transforms the image of a lynching event into a symbolic burden. Browsing this superb collection of well-executed paintings, pictures like ‘Black Painting’ hangs heavily in one’s mind, although I did leave with a broad smile taken after the ‘Club Couple’.

Kerry James Marshall – Untitled (Club Couple) (2014)

Notes at MOCA: Walking past one large & tiresome installation by Thomas Hirschhorn, then humoured by Rachel Lachowicz’s ‘Lipstick Cube’, I stopped transfixed in front of Robert Rauschenberg’s ‘Interview’. One of the artist’s earliest combines, the collection of paint and images demarcated by a swinging door, projects into the viewer’s space yet draws one closer to the work. What unknown/anxiety is Bob alluding to? Is art-making, art-presentation, art-know-how, or art-selection, what people want to know about the artist? Are sports and food the best conversation starters in New York City? Does staying in one’s closet offer help advance a relationship? ‘Interview’ is not a product of introspection, but a reaction towards social interactions. Painting and found objects, what a great combination.

Robert Rauschenberg – Interview (1955)

Chicago Public Art: Braving the cold (stupidity), I spent a morning tracking down as many public art sculptures I could locate that were close to the Loop, by referencing the city’s official Public Art Guide. The list of famous last names is long – Calder, Picasso, Dubuffet, LeWitt, Serra, Wool, Castle, Oldenburg, Plensa... yet crowds gather only at Kapoor’s ‘Cloud Gate’ for a photo stop. Less Instagram-friendly but more engaging than a shiny bean, is the sounding sculpture by Harry Bertoia, located at the plaza of Aon Centre. Copper rods fixed onto a brass base sway in the Windy City breeze, its musical chimes offering an enchanting experience to complement the view of Lake Michigan (or skyscraper) in the background.

Harry Bertoia: Untitled Sound Sculpture (1975) [video at Richard Gleaves YouTube channel]

Viviane Sassen at MoCP: “Conceived as an installation work with seven different chapters”, “UMBRA” by the Amsterdam-based fashion photographer remains the best solo exhibition I seen this year. The size and themes of pictures exhibited in each section is distinct, yet the play on shadows and mirror images infuse a psychological dimension into her captures. Moving from a meditation about burying the dead and coloured shadows upstairs, to the lucid snapshots of people that juxtapose sunlight with darkness, Viviane’s works display a knack for surprising visual configurations within a rectangular freeze frame. I sit in the dark room and watch the sign language performance video ‘Hurtling’ three times, before settling into the LARVAE installation to trace surreal close-ups of human bodies. Mirrored projections are nonidentical; shadows take its desired form; reflected light rays hurtle.

Installation snapshots at Viviane Sassen – LARVAE (2017)

Art AIDS America Chicago at Alphawood Gallery: As described by one reviewer, this staggering “show explicates how the art created during and after the AIDS crisis is not a footnote or a sub-genre in art history, but something that impacted the course of it.” This temporary gallery space is charged with personal emotion relayed through the many artworks, that successfully engages visitors with anguished tributes, coping mechanisms, and a collective voice. To cherry-pick one artwork feels like relegating the rest, as I become a bit more optimistic about art as a politically mobilising force. In this day & age when people feel uncomfortable after watching Moonlight, it is still relevant to anchor an exhibition onto a traumatic duration, especially when there is still no cure for AIDS available now.

Dr. Eric Avery – The Stuff of Life (1993) – an installation of condom-filled piƱatas against a background of blood-cell patterned wallpaper to encourage HIV testing in largely Latino communities in Texas