Sunday, December 07, 2008

"trust visions that don't feature buckets of blood"

on wednesday i went to byu to sneak into a piano room for a bit.  sadly, they were all full of legitimate students, leaving me wandering through the main lobby of the hfac as i wondered where on campus might have a private piano for a nice boy like myself.  the bfa show on display wasn't doing much for me, and as i looked up at the displays on the higher floors, i remembered hearing on classical89 about the museum of art's show on "searching for meaning in art in the late-60s."
the title of the exhibit led me to think that it was rebelling against the uber-esoteric styles of the stereotypical "modern art": a plain white canvas, a four-foot steel cube, or a page from the phonebook, all being called "Art."

the exhibit was, in fact, those sort of items, the first being a seven-foot industrial-made "X".

i had learned about these movements of "minimalism" and "conceptual art" in my art history class.  these were the days when dr. magleby would display a painting by mark rothko and the dudes in baseball caps behind me would mutter, "you've got to be kidding me--that's art??"  to be fair, the giant, partially-eaten cube of chocolate entitled "gnaw" took a little explanation, but once i saw where the artist was coming from, i quite liked it.

be it a movie by andrei tarkovsky or a series of sculptures by sol lewitt, art of this sort is better appreciated when you learn about the environments and movements they had come from, and to understand what they were trying to evoke in the viewer.
there was a 13-minute video that helped give an introduction to what was going on in the art world at this time.  the rolling stones' "gimme shelter" led way to a narration by campbell grey, the museum's director and former member of our stake presidency back in the day.  president grey often gave the best talks at stake conference, and i loved meeting with him for temple recommend interviews, as it was encouraging to talk with someone strong in the Gospel with an appreciation for art.  instead of decrying the cussing in "o brother, where art thou?", he praised the film for its allegory.
in the video, he explained that as art forms were expanding, painting had lost much of it's uniqueness to photography, leading the artists to ask, what can painting do that nothing else can?  the essence of painting was "flatness", and pure, perfect flatness is what these works strove for.

conceptual art, like the best movies, realized that art cannot exist without a viewer, and so the viewer is an important part of the work.  therefore, the piece does not do all of the creation, but part of that is left to you: what do you think when you see that?  what do you feel?  one work was two parts, a small, white, square canvas, and a second frame, with a written guarantee that in that canvas was a 10" circle; it's up to you to see the circle.

as for the giant X or the series of open metal cubes on the floor, the environment becomes part of the work, and there is no mark of the artist.  no brush strokes or weld marks.  but look at how it takes up the space in the museum, how the light in the room reflects on it.  it looks different depending in the angle you are standing (or sitting) when you see it.  it takes more thought and effort, but once you understand how to approach these works, it's some pretty cool stuff.
as i was walking through the gallery, i caught a glimpse of the "religious art" wing down the hall.  after all of this, those paintings of people seemed so... straightforward.

i think i'm going to visit minneapolis' museum of art over the Christmas break.

one final thing; a lot of museums have little headsets you can carry that will give you a guided tour of what you're seeing.  the moa has a cool idea: pull out your cell phone and dial a number, then enter the number next to the work you're looking at, and right there you get a brief lecture on it.  neat.

1 comment:

kwistin said...

i dig this post. in fact, we have been talking about this in my humanities class as of late: your musings of "a page from a phone book" or "a plain white canvas" reminds me of the Dada period...especially Duchamp's controversial "Fountain".

i totally know what you mean by the more you understand the culture and environment it came from, the more you appreciate the art. did you know that in the first 25 years of picasso's life, the light bulb, machine gun, photography and tons more were ALL invented? PLUS Einstein's Theory of Relativity! and by the age of 20, he had become an amazing realist. dang, if i were that good by now (as i'm 20) i'd want to abstract my style too.

way to be the ploxiest. ;)