Sunday, December 26, 2010

Art review: Less isn't more as Norton asks, 'Now WHAT?'

inverted red catenary,‭ by Allyson Strafella.


By Gretel Sarmiento

Two strangers in a museum find themselves sharing the same opinion about that thing facing them.‭ ‬They call it‭ ‬“thing‭”‬ because they don't know what it is.‭ ‬And the brave one's loud comment‭ (‬“What the heck is this‭?”‬) is the shy one's relief.

Such‭ ‬a‭ ‬flow of communication might be common at the Now WHAT‭?‬ show,‭ ‬which opened recently at the Norton Museum in West Palm Beach in an attempt to bring to town a flame or two of the fire set in Miami Beach by‭ ‬this year’s‭ ‬Art Basel.

Out of that fair came the‭ ‬31‭ ‬pieces and‭ ‬21‭ ‬artists that compose‭ ‬Now WHAT‭? ‬The selections were made by two of the museum's curators,‭ ‬who went‭ ‬south to pick the freshest,‭ ‬riskiest,‭ ‬most relevant art representative of our times.‭ ‬They then decided that the theme bringing it all together will be communication.

In that sense,‭ ‬and only in that sense,‭ ‬the Norton show is great.‭ ‬Nothing gets a conversation going like a piece that makes no sense.‭ ‬That conversation usually goes something like this:‭ ‬Is this art‭?‬ Here it is provoked by plenty,‭ ‬such as‭ ‬Pigeon Holes,‭ ‬by Roxy Paine,‭ ‬in which plasters of paints appear inside plexiglas like dead insects pinned down waiting to be examined.‭

Volumes From an Imagined Intellectual History of Animals,‭ ‬Architecture and Man,‭
‬by Julian Montague.


In Volumes from an Imagined‭ ‬Intellectual History of Animals,‭ ‬Architecture and Man,‭ ‬nothing was actually created,‭ ‬unless you consider the title of the piece or the order in which the books are placed a creative result.‭ ‬The work,‭ ‬by Julian Montague,‭ ‬consists of‭ ‬10‭ ‬old books,‭ ‬most of which have the image of a bug on the cover and hint at the effect small animals can have in the life of man.

Meanwhile with‭ ‬September‭ ‬2010,‭ ‬Receipts,‭ ‬a‭ ‬24-foot long strip of personal expenses,‭ ‬the artist,‭ ‬David Shapiro,‭ ‬is telling us that we are all artists.‭ ‬After all,‭ ‬as an observer pointed out,‭ ‬we all have collections just like this at home.‭ ‬Due bills‭? ‬Receipts‭? ‬Anyone‭?

One singular instant in which this dialogue ceases to be sarcastic comes courtesy of Bryan Drury and is titled‭ ‬Ali.‭ ‬It is a striking small portrait that calls us no matter where we stand in the room and made dramatic by its bright red background.

Once directly facing it,‭ ‬we marvel at how realistic and alive‭ ‬Ali is.‭ ‬Notice the pores of the skin,‭ ‬the imperfect flesh,‭ ‬the swollen lips and you will see condensed in this seemingly traditional/safe work the prints of a skillful artist.‭

‬Whenever I‭’‬m reviewing a show,‭ ‬I usually go alone.‭ ‬This time,‭ ‬however,‭ ‬I brought along company on purpose.‭ ‬I wanted to see if I‭’‬m alone in thinking that lately the concepts of simplicity and absence are being repeatedly presented as art.‭ ‬I saw it at Art Basel.‭ ‬It is here again.

A dark silver wood panel is all that Teresita Fernandez‭’‬s Nocturnal‭ (‬Rise and Fall‭) ‬is.‭ ‬Hers is the second piece to the right once you enter the gallery room.‭ ‬I can‭’‬t detect specific figures or a message.‭ ‬As it often happens with art,‭ ‬there is no explanation for it.‭ ‬All it seems to be is precisely what it is:‭ ‬solid graphite and pencil on wood panels.

Ghost-Ship-Wreck,‭ ‬by Christopher Russell.‭

‬In‭ ‬Allyson Strafella‭’‬s foundation‭ ‬(2005‭) ‬and‭ ‬inverted red catenary‭ (‬2010‭)‬ ‭ ‬art seems to take the form of holes resulted from typing underlines and colons over and over on carbon paper.

When it’s not holes,‭ ‬art here is vanishing,‭ ‬disappearing,‭ ‬hardly visible,‭ ‬almost a ghost.‭ ‬No other work here puts it better than Christopher Russell’s‭ ‬Ghost-Ship-Wreck,‭ ‬an‭ ‬18-frame piece done mostly in silver.‭ ‬Thin and thick white lines give life to the ship,‭ ‬which in some frames appears sinking and in others marching ahead.‭

‬Could it be that artists are teaching themselves to create less or use less to create‭? ‬Is the trendy minimalism wave to blame‭?

I don’t know that you can simplify art without affecting its very essence.‭ ‬A kitchen,‭ ‬for instance,‭ ‬has two factors that make it identifiable:‭ ‬appearance and use.‭ ‬Simplify or alter its look as you may and you would still be able to tell it‭’‬s a kitchen through the way it is used.‭ ‬Art is not an appliance or a closet.‭ ‬It has no use through which it can make itself present or known.‭ ‬It relies on what you can see to make itself identifiable,‭ ‬ideally,‭ ‬as art.

Simplify the only thing it is and you end up with less of what it is,‭ ‬or even worse,‭ ‬you end up with nothing:‭ ‬a thing forced to pose for an audience when really all it wants is to be put out of its misery.

Kim Rugg‭’‬s‭ ‬The Story Is One Sign‭ ‬seems to me an example of this.‭ ‬If we go along with her message,‭ ‬the story is sometimes a dollar sign,‭ ‬$,‭ ‬and other times‭ ‬a‭ “‬J‭” ‬or a‭ “‬K.‭”‬ The artist has grabbed a front page of‭ ‬The New York Times and placed the same‭ ‬30‭ ‬times next to one another.‭ ‬In each copy,‭ ‬the content and images have been stripped from the page only to leave a sign or a letter.‭ ‬On one page,‭ ‬we can only see the‭ “‬Ks‭”‬ as they appeared originally on the newsprint.‭ ‬The rest,‭ ‬most of it,‭ ‬is white.‭ ‬Nothing to be seen.‭ ‬Less to judge.‭

‬By the end of the show my guest and I had reached a conclusion:‭ ‬The artists here had great concepts,‭ ‬ideas,‭ ‬but either got lazy halfway into their projects or they didn't have much imagination to carry their creations to the very end.‭ ‬Or maybe,‭ ‬they simply didn't care.
Pigeon Holes,‭ by Roxy Paine.

Or you could say that present here are great conceptualists or philosophers,‭ ‬but not necessarily great artists.‭ ‬Unless you find yourself already in the museum,‭ ‬this is not something you need to see.‭ ‬If you don’t come,‭ ‬you won‭’‬t miss anything.‭

‬The show was intended to be full of delightful surprises.‭ ‬And‭ ‬Now WHAT‭? ‬seems like something we would say to the person who keeps interrupting us in the middle of something delightful.‭ ‬But that‭’‬s not what I feel like saying.

I want to be interrupted,‭ ‬pulled‭ ‬aside and told the secret behind this exhibit:‭ ‬Is it art or is it a joke‭? ‬And to the museum curators I want to ask:‭ ‬Why‭? ‬How‭? ‬I get a feeling those visitors who do come from now until March‭ ‬13‭ ‬will be asking the same.‭

Now WHAT‭?‬ runs through March‭ ‬13‭ ‬at the Norton Museum of Art.‭ ‬Admission:‭ ‬$12,‭ ‬adults‭; ‬$5‭ ‬ages‭ ‬13-21.‭ ‬Hours:‭ ‬10‭ ‬a.m.‭ ‬to‭ ‬5‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬Tuesdays through Saturdays‭; ‬1‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬to‭ ‬5‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬Sundays‭; ‬closed Mondays.‭ ‬Call‭ ‬832-5196‭ ‬or visit www.norton.org.‭

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