Friday, June 24, 2005

Opening : Visual Music

Lovely interactive site for the exhibit here.

Despite the threat of a thunderstorm the opening was lovely. Openings at the Hirshhorn are a special treat when the weather cooperates and they can be held outside in the plaza. Ambient music played in the background to set the mood and there were blocks of colored light scattered around the space. The rosepetal martinis were a hit - not too flowery, not too sweet - the perfect drink on a summer evening. One of the artists - John Whitney Jr., I think - wore a tall black top hat lit up with flashing shapes much like those in his family's films.

There was a palpable energy in the exhibit. I have to go through again to really grasp it, but on first viewing I was taken by surprise by the freshness of the first room of paintings (on walls painted a light blue, a welcome alternative to the regular white walled gallery). The films by the Whitney family caught my attention but I didn't have the time to really absorb them.

Because so much of the exhibit is made up of time-based media it requires your attention. You have to give the pieces time to sink under your skin, to absorb the flow of the artist's vision.

More later.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Future Reviews

Last week I contacted JT of Thinking About Art about supplying him with occasional reviews and he kindly agreed. He gets many more readers than I do (I think I'm my only reader right now, hopefully that will change soon!) so the reviews will appear at his blog before they are posted here.

I ran out of time this weekend to type up the rest of my NYC reviews, hopefully I can get to that this week. It doesn't help that a little over a week ago my computer was fried when our house became temporarily ungrounded. I haven't gotten a replacement yet. I'm salivating over laptops right now.

Visual Music

Opening Thursday at the Hirshhorn is Visual Music, which is going to be a great exhibition.

Visual Music June 23, 2005 - September 11, 2005

The Hirshhorn and The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, have co-organized the first exhibition in the United States to examine the many forms of visual music, an interdisciplinary, broad-based art movement that explored the relationship of abstraction, color, and music. The presentation brings together the work of forty artists and an array of media, including painting, photography, film, light projection, computer graphics, and immersive environments.

Cosmic Drift: Late Access/Light Show Visual Music Experience

Another awesome FREE activity in DC... this should be spectacular.

June 25, 2005 at 9:30 pm to 2 am
Celebrate the opening weekend of the Hirshhorn’s new exhibition Visual Music with late-night access to the exhibition and a psychedelic light show by artists Joshua White and Gary Panter with music by Norman Hathaway. Groove to great music, explore the exhibition until 2 am and visit the lower level where 99 Hooker and Rev.99 will perform a multimedia homage to visual music artist Stan Brakhage. White achieved acclaim in the 1960s for The Joshua Light Show, in which he created kaleidoscopic, mind-bending effects for the likes of Janis Joplin, Frank Zappa, Jimi Hendrix, and the Allman Brothers Band.

See the Hirshhorn Museum website for details.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Tim Hawkinson at the Whitney

I arrived in NYC at lunchtime and my friend wasn't due to arrive until three. So I hauled my bag through the long tunnel connecting the Port Authority to the Subway and made my way uptown to the Whitney Museum to see the Tim Hawkinson show. I was only vaguely aware of Hawkinson's work, mostly from magazines, and I think I had him confused with another sculptor who uses paper - Tom Friedman.

The elevators open to a large open room filled with a tree-like contraption that also recalls the ductwork of a furnace. Pentecost (1999) is not a gentle introduction to Hawkinson's work; but nor is it so brash as to turn the viewer away. Human figures perch from the branches of tubing, suspended in a variety of positions above and around you. The figures resemble crude 3-D models of a topographic map of a person. After a moment to orient yourself, you hear hollow notes separated by short increments of time. There's a tune there, but you're not exactly sure what it is. A few minutes longer and you realize that the notes are created by the figures themselves. A rap of a toe here, a kneecap there - small pieces of the figures come to life and "play" the sculpture in movements so subtle as to be hardly noticable. And then it hits you - the entire piece is an organ, in both the musical and physiological senses. If given the time it deserves, Pentecost is the most rewarding and complex piece in the show.

Click "Read More!" to read on.

While intriguing, the rest of the exhibition rarely lives up to the promise of that first room. Hawkinson's best work is like the product of your reclusive neighbor who spends all night tinkering with junk in his garage. The sculptures have a decidedly put together feel. In a time of slick computer animation, of the seamless manipulation of photography and impossible feats of shiny architecture, Hawkinson's work has an initially endearing handmade quality that becomes more political the longer you think about it. The inner workings and means of construction are left in the open, the sources of power and control freely visible to the viewer - always transparent and exposed.

Orange extension cords run overhead and meander through the space, connecting some of the pieces and leading you through the galleries. Washingtonians may recognize Drip (2002), which Hawkinson displayed at the 2003 Corcoran Biennial. Like many of Hawkinson's works Drip produces sound through a mechanical process - this time via water that drips from thin branches of clear tubing to hit aluminum pie tins placed inside metal buckets. At the Corcoran the meditative Drip made a strong impact; but here its unfortunate proximity to the noisier Pentecost undercuts its power.

Hawkinson's demented humour repeatedly bobs its head as you traverse the exhibit. Hidden in a small alcolve is a kneeling skeleton made of the bone-shaped rawhides dogs adore. Penitent (1995) emits a high pitched whistle from it's skull, which is also stitched together from sheets of rawhide. The sound is forlorn, as if the skeleton can't help but call the very animal that would likely devour it.

Another delight is a mop wired to "speak" by blowing air across a pipe the way you would a bottle. The mutant tool whines in understandable English, if you listen closely enough. Tuva (1995), a contraption constructed mostly from the clear plastic water bottles ubiquitous in any city, replicates the eery throat singing of the Mongolian region.

While this review has focused on Hawkinson's sound-producing pieces, his themes range from explorations of the perception of the human body, creating surrogates for that body, and meditations on time.

The junkyard materials and madcap creations are a refreshing change of pace from the slickly constructed, souless abstraction so popular right now. The show could have been tightened up if some of the lightweight pieces (most of the works on paper, and the replicas of familar objects made from unfamiliar materials) were cut in order to focus the show on Hawkinson's examinations of his own body and his doppelgangers made of living machines. Uneven but never boring, Tim Hawkinson's work remains lodged your mind long after you leave the Whitney behind.

New York Trip

Over the Memorial Day weekend I took the Greyhound up to NYC - always an interesting experience. The man seated next to me appeared to be in his sixties but acted very much like a naive fourteen-year-old. At one point he asked how I got the music into my box (referring to my iPod). I was a little thrown, and since I don't particularly understand the technical details either, just told him the music came from my computer. He appeared to accept this, and asked if I used a wire to connect them. Since that seemed a bit obvious I just nodded. As we approached Manhattan and the skyline came into view my seatmate bounced up and down in his seat, pointing enthusiastically. I'm not so jaded that I don't still feel a thrill at that impossibly long string of buildings, but his excitement was unexpected and a little disconcerting. I hope he had a blast, though.

It continually amazes me how few Washingtonians make the trip to NY. One of my colleagues at work is a native to this area and had never visited until a few years ago. When I attended college in Michigan, we made the trip to Chicago (a three hour drive) at least once or twice a year, usually returning in the same day. And New York! So close! There's no excuse, not when the bus costs less than gas and parking would.

Luckily I had a free place to stay. I tried to pack in as much art as humanly possible, and by the end of the second day was pretty sure I never wanted to see another gallery again. The last day, as an antedote, I went to see "Revenge of the Sith" on Times Square, and was painfully reminded that the world can always use more good art.

Over the weekend I'll post reviews and observations of the shows I visited.

The Blogging Virgin

So this is all new to me. Using a pre-made template bugs the artist in me, but hey, I'm not that technically savvy. So for now, the generic template.

The title was borrowed from a shortlived gallery I was a part of a few years ago. So maybe it lives on, if only in 1s and 0s.

Blogging feels oddly egotistical. Or maybe pathetic. Depends on if anyone reads it, really. But hey, I wanted an outlet for some of my thoughts, and at this point I don't really care if anyone else reads them...