Greg Cook has the news: Brandeis will not sell off the Rose Art Museum collection.
Tyler Green Modern Art Notes
Archive for June, 2011
It wasn’t until days later that I discovered I hadn’t visited all of MoMA’s Francis Alÿs exhibition: As it turns out, some of MoMA’s Francis Alÿs exhibition isn’t at MoMA, it’s at PS1, MoMA’s Triple-A ballpark in Queens.
This brought to mind the obvious question: Why on earth would MoMA, which has 130,000 square feet of exhibition space on West 53rd Street, about the 16th-most gallery space of any US art museum, split an show in half, forcing visitors to make two trips to see it?
Here’s the official explanation from MoMA spokesperson Paul Jackson:
There are a number of reasons — from a curatorial perspective [exhibition curator and PS1 director] Klaus Biesenbach had always meant for The Modern Procession [above] to be on view at MoMA PS1, considering the premise of that work (linking Manhattan and Queens through the procession from MoMA to a satellite institution in Queens). Visitors can also see the Queensborough Bridge from the gallery window (an important geographical location within the work), which Klaus and Francis noted early on. More broadly, presenting works at MoMA PS1 meant there would be a certain disconnect (visitors traveling between two venues; disconnect of a single exhibition), a theme that is reflected in the works on view at MoMA PS1 — the tubas finding each other in Venice; the single guards going into formation in London; the Modern Procession.
Jackson added that MoMA has done this before, with an Olafur Eliasson survey organized by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. He said that MoMA did not then and is not now conducting research to see what percentage of visitors hit both stops.
Here’s the (highly) unofficial explanation for why MoMA is splitting Alÿs, from me: I presume that PS1 director Klaus Biesenbach likes having a simultaneous presence at ‘his’ space in Queens and in Manhattan, MoMA lets him and, well, deal with it. [Image: Alys, The Modern Procession, 2002. Collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York.]
In the meantime, MoMA (or some smart grad student) should get on an exhibition(s) visitor survey, stat. Seems like MoMA should want to know how good or bad an idea this is.
It is an indication of my blindness to a certain subject matter in contemporary art that I have seen the documentation from Francis Alÿs’ When Faith Moves Mountains project before, but that until its recent installation at the Museum of Modern Art I never thought of, well, faith.
When Faith Moves Mountains is an action that Alÿs organized in collaboration with Cuauhtemoc Medina and Rafael Ortega outside Lima in 2002: The three protagonists gave shovels to 500 volunteers and asked them to form a line along a sand dune. The idea was that the volunteers would use their shovels to ‘move’ the sand dune 10 centimeters from its original position. A 15-minute film documenting the ‘making of’ the project is available at Francis Alÿs’ website for viewing online and for download as a zipped MP4.
Because the action was created for the 2002 Lima Biennial, the work is typically considered Alÿs’ commentary on Peru’s transition from Alberto Fujimori’s dictatorship to a poverty-addled democracy, a way of asking the question: Does a nation’s mass movement toward something typically considered progress — access to the ballot box — matter if it doesn’t improve the lot of a country’s people? At least that’s how curator Russell Ferguson presented it in the catalogue for his 2007 Hammer Museum Alÿs survey titled “Politics of Rehearsal,” and that’s how MoMA curator Klaus Biesenbach presented it in the catalogue for his two-borough Francis Alÿs survey, “A Story of Deception.” The exhibition is on view at both MoMA and PS1 through Aug. 1.
While the artist and his collaborator push that interpretation– Alÿs and Medina wrote the catalogue section of MoMA’s exhibition publication (a bit of curatorial here-you-do-it that’s a little bit like Motor Trend relying on a Chevrolet sales brochure to tell it what it needs to know about a Corvette) — there’s another way to read the work: As Alÿs’ cynicism about the value of religious belief. Included in the documentation for the work on view at MoMA is a notation, presumably made by Alÿs, that variations of the phrase ‘faith can move mountains’ is common to all three religions of the book: Christianity, Judaism and Islam. For example, the phrase is in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians: “And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.”
As is so often the case in Alÿs’ work, issues are raised and not resolved and subjects are outlined rather than defined. Is Alÿs asking if our faith in democracy as a problem-solver as problematic as our faith in the existence of a supernatural?
Alÿs has explored the intersection of faith and religion in other work: In his Fabiola project, Alÿs has accumulated dozens of pictures of St. Fabiola, a fourth-century Catholic saint. Fabiola works on lots of levels, as an exercise in repetition, rehearsal, unintentional and derivative seriality, but also as a meditation on faith: Do the same thing over and over and over — the Rosary, say — and hope it works. When Faith Moves Mountains functions on the same level, except that it’s an intentional action that may or may not move a mountain sand dune. (When Faith Moves Sand Dunes doesn’t have quite the same religious ring, does it?)
But that’s not all Alÿs is getting at with When Faith Moves Mountains, which was ‘performed’ in April, 2002. It’s tempting to think of When Faith Moves Mountains as Alys’ response to the foreign policy of the then-nascent and infamously faith-based George W. Bush administration. Just as Alÿs was conceptualizing When Faith Moves Mountains, the Bush White House was beginning to push the alleged link between democracy and development as a fundamental part of American foreign policy. Alÿs, who can be a bit of an opportunistic festival-conceptualist, likely saw a direct rejoinder to that part of the Bush Doctrine in democratic-but-economically struggling Peru, where he had recently been asked him to create a piece for a biennial in Lima.
(The set of foreign policy guidelines that are known as the Bush Doctrine would be formally presented in September, 2002, when the Bush administration published its fundamental tenets in the National Security Council text, “The National Security Strategy of the United States.” A key section of the document, titled “Expand the Circle of Development by Opening Societies and Building the Infrastructure of Democracy,” asserts that the Bush Administration believed that there was necessarily a link between development and democracy. I don’t mean to suggest that Alÿs was specifically responding to the NSC text, but to note that the text was the published culmination of the Bush administration’s advocacy of the democracy-equals-development formula.)
When Faith Moves Mountains suggests that to Alÿs, who has spent most of his career creating projects in the Third World, the link wasn’t quite so clear. Nor does Alÿs present an answer that’s simple. He has organized a collective action, but did it really succeed in its stated goal of moving a sand dune 10 centimeters? No. Collectivism that is the result of an arbitrary target set by a centrally-planned figure don’t work either, a point Alÿs underscores with his photo-depictions of the action. In photograph after photograph, tiny white specks move across the landscape in a single line. No progress is evident or measurable. The people are just doing what they’re told. It doesn’t seem to be doing any good. The sand dune looks exactly the same after the action as it did before.
Much of Alÿs’ work suggests that there are no easy answers to Latin America’s problems and that political dogma is as hollow as religious dogma. When Faith Moves Mountains, which smartly ties political faith to religious faith, may be Alÿs’ most complete meditation on either subject. [All images in this post are untitled photographs from When Faith Moves Mountains, 2002. Collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York.]
This week I’ll be featuring a number of posts on the Museum of Modern Art’s presentation of Francis Alÿs, “A Story of Deception.” The exhibition is on view in Manhattan and at PS1 in Queens until Aug. 1. (More later on MoMA’s splitting the exhibition between two venues.) It’s a kind of a New York follow-up-plus-acquisitions-presentation of the Hammer Museum’s 2007 Alÿs show, “A Politics of Rehearsal.”
It’s possible that no film/video-installation heavy contemporary art exhibition has ever been as extensively available online as is “A Story of Deception.” (Readers?) That’s because Alÿs has made many of his media works available for viewing online, under this Creative Commons license. The website Alÿs has put up — francisalys.com — features two sections. One is for works visitors may download, view or even distribute through their own devices. The other is for works which can be viewed only at Alÿs’ website. Sixteen of the works in the MoMA show are available in the Creative Commons-licensed section of Alÿs’ site and three more are available for streaming online.
For example, click here to view a full-screen version of When Faith Moves Mountains (making of) (2002). I’ll discuss this piece on MAN tomorrow. [Image at left: Alÿs, Untitled from When Faith Moves Mountains (2002). Collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York.]
Also: Many, many images of non-video pieces (such as photo-documented works) are available via MoMA’s typically thorough exhibition website.
- In the Los Angeles Times, Jori Finkel writes about art on view outdoors in New York and then explains why all this is relevant for Los Angeles.
- Roberta Smith is the latest critic to jump on the Ryan Trecartin badwagon. Or so I’ve heard.
- Ten years after Margaret Kilgallen’s death, her art returns to San Francisco’s Mission district, reports Kimberly Chun in the SF Chronicle.
- In the Boston Globe, Sebastian Smee likes the Clark’s Pissarro show.
- The Washington Post’s Philip Kennicott details a permanent collection show at the Hirshhorn.
- According to Geoff Edgers in the Globe, the MFA Boston was proactive in offering up a restitution payment for this (likely) Nazi-plundered painting.
- Will Wilkins writes in the Hartford Courant in support of a Carl Andre sculpture in downtown Hartford that may be slated for destruction.
Who doesn’t love a smart summer page-turner, the kind of book you enjoy on the beach as you soak up a few craft-brewed ales? (Recommended.) MAN offers up five art beach-books for your summer enjoyment. None is as frothy as a Danielle Steel, but you wouldn’t be caught dead in the Hamptons or in Carmel toting such piffle, would you?
1.) Robert Hughes, Nothing If Not Critical. Smart, opinionated exhibition reviews from a time when NYC critics didn’t fawn over every NYC museum show they saw.
2.) Peter Robb, M, The Man Who Became Caravaggio. One of the most stylish, violent artist biographies out there. With this exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada (and on its way to the Kimbell), it’s also timely.
3.) Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan, de Kooning: An American Master. One of the best artist biographies of the last decade. Two extra reasons to read it now: This upcoming retrospective at MoMA, an opportunity to double-up by reading Susan E. Lake’s superb study of de Kooning’s materials.
4.) Jonathan Lopez, The Man Who Made Vermeers: Unvarnishing the Legend of Master Forger Han van Meegeren. This well-spun tale features Vermeers, fakes, Nazis, fakes, Vermeers and fakes. What more do you need?
Yesterday I told my Twitter followers that Dia is in sit-tight-and-wait mode when it comes to the Utah Department of Natural Resources decision on Dia’s expired Spiral Jetty lease. As MAN reported on June 9, there is a dispute between the DNR and Dia as to whether or not Dia’s lease for the land on which Spiral Jetty sits is up-to-date. At the time, Dia executive director Philippe Vergne told MAN that he hoped that Utah would resolve the situation in Dia’s favor as soon as close-of-business the next day. [Image: Spiral Jetty via Flickr user heidikins.com.]
Late yesterday afternoon, a DNR spokesperson told MAN that a lease decision may be imminent.
“There were some discussions on a final decision [Wednesday],” DNR spokesperson Jason Curry said. “I have not heard the outcome, but I’m hoping I can have an announcement in the next 48 hours.”