Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Gutai and Zarinia Go Boating

I really enjoyed the Gutai exhibition at the Guggenheim especially since it was a complete unknown quantity to me. Briefly put they were a collective of artists working in Japan from 1954 to 1972 who took painting, sculpture and installation art and turned it on its head. They also published journals some of which are displayed throughout the show. No doubt they were influenced by American Abstract art but they brought their own unique culture and sensibility to their work and also I think were reacting to their postwar environment and the horrible war they lived through. Lets not forget that they are the only country ever to have atomic bombs dropped on their heads. The show is beautiful and lavish, and wonderfully installed and compelling with many terrific paintings that are bold and inventive in their techniques. I thought it was a much better show than the one on Japanese Art that the Moma mounted a few months ago "Tokyo 1955-1970: The Birth of the Avant-Garde" There is a short but informative video on the link below. I also liked "Zarina (not to be confused with Zorina the dancer) Paper Like Skin" which is a somewhat large but compact retrospective of her works on paper and of paper including many prints. Her way of working is minimal. Simple shapes, lines and marks including a nice series of pin drawings made by her piercing the white paper with needles. They have the look of braille. I also liked a wall installation of lots of 3D abstract like bird shapes made of tin, and there is a large series of small drawings and collages arranged in a large round display case that were hit and miss for me. Born in India in 1937 she brings a subtle political edge to her work that doesn't infringe on the beautiful look of many of her pieces. Also on view is a dull group show called "contemporary Art for South and Southeast Asia" which the museum is warning us is the first in "multi-year Initiative" The work is strictly grad school stuff and that the museum is actually buying these things is beyond me. The final show on view is another accumulation bit of nonsense by Danh Vo who actually won the Hugo Boss Prize for his work. This one is an homage of sorts to the late artist Martin Wong and is a smallish room with wall to wall shelves housing the eccentric and eclectic collection of Wong. So what we have are shelves of vintage Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck toys, Popeye stuff, books (I noticed two copies of "The Philosophy Of Andy Warhol. (From A To B & Back Again)" and wondered if they were signed along with tons of salt and pepper shakers, trinkets, children's books, travel guides and even some toys that I owned as a kid. What bothered me about this latest pile of stuff (The Guggenheim seems to love this kind of exhibit as its the second recent one they're shoved down our throats) is how appealing and enticing it is. I mean who doesn't like flea markets, shelves of toys and tchotchkes. This show appeals to our inner spiritual tchotchke, and is the kind of exhibit that Aunt Betty and Uncle Al can easily love, embrace and talk about back home in Indiana. But and this is a big but what does it say about Martin Wong other than he liked to collect things. Does it say that he was gay? No. does it say that he had AIDS and eventually passed from it Again no, this information is mentioned in an oh by the way aside on the intro statement. Does it say that he was a painter? No not really although there are a few inconsequential works of his peeking out from behind all of the objects, and does it say that he was an Asian American? Yes we know that of course from his name. I want more much more from homages and memorials than shelves of things. When I was a kid growing up in Brooklyn I had a friend Freddy Adler who had the most amazing toy collection I think I had ever seen. Arranged on many shelves in his bedroom they were to be looked at and not touched, and his mother and grandfather hovered over me to make sure of this. Maybe I should propose an exhibition to the Gu Mu of Freddy Adler's toys and the meaning and influence it had on my becoming an artist.



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