Monday, August 11, 2008

Confluence, Construction, Confrontation

The next shows I want to discuss are what's happening at the Whitney Museum.  Let it be known here and henceforth that the Whitney really is my favorite museum in New York, and I'm SO happy they're building another one by Renzo Piano.  So excited!  I still have no idea why they don't want to link it to the highline, I think that would be awesome, but anyway.

I had a total epiphany at the Whitney this visit.  Many of you who have been addicted to the museums for years will likely find this a very mediocre realization.  For the record, I have done countless circuits.  For a couple of years it was the contemporary art galleries.  For a couple years it was the houses of couture.  I saw everything going on, and looked closely.  And I've seen countless incredible retrospectives over the years.

But having made a pact with myself to see everything going on at the museums, it suddenly became blatantly clear to me for the first time this summer: all of New York City's major museums are in sync with one another.  

There is a room at the Whitney's Buckminster Fuller show that looks EXACTLY like the Model Room of the Olafur Eliasson show at P.S. 1.  That same room at the Whitney has photos of Fuller teaching and hanging out being goofy and brilliant with the artists at Black Mountain College (which included Jasper Johns), who are totally on display at the Jewish Museum.  The Action/Abstraction show is a wonderful contextual extension of Johns at the Met, and starts right on the tail end of Surrealism, as if taking up where the Dali show leaves off.  The Whitney's Fuller show includes a model of his Dymaxion House, and the MoMA's Home Delivery show has another copy of the same model.  The Whitney is also showing Paul McCarthy, whose work attacks our perception of our environments in much the same way--though, clearly, with a very different attitude--that Eliasson's work does.  Home Delivery in its own similar way asks us to reevaluate our attitudes toward the spaces we occupy.  The Whitney's Progress show ties McCarthy together with Fuller and Eliasson even more profoundly.  By showing the somewhat surreal Buster Keaton film at the entrance to both the Dali and Home Delivery, MoMA ties Dali together with Fuller and thereby everything else, around and around we go.

I'm not sure exactly how the Guggenheim's Louise Bourgeois fits in (although her work does at time confront environments on a much more quiet, intimate level), or the Turner for that matter, but I've got my brain working on it.

A friend of mine called attention to the fact that trends come together for everyone in these associated circles, that people start thinking along similar lines due to a collective unconscious, and of course that's true.  But the connections that are happening in the major shows going on right now are just too profound for me to consider them arbitrary.  I really believe the curatorship in New York is an integrated force affecting style and thought on the arts in this part of the world.  And I think the major museums are purposefully tying their shows together into one New York movement of thought.

In any case, it's difficult to think of anyone who made as profound a mark on the 20th Century as Buckminster Fuller, aside from maybe Marcel Duchamp and a few others.  He really was a crazy genius.

--Photo courtesy Presidential Medal of Freedom

One of the very best things about the show is right down there in the lobby.  They have one of the only three existing Dymaxion Cars on display.
--Photo courtesy Washed Ashore, where it's claimed Leopold Stokowsky owned one of them for a short time.
For all my love of automobiles, the 1930s, industrial design, and just technology in general, I don't think I've ever seen one in person.  It's very possible that the Henry Ford Museum has one, though, so I may have seen one there, without knowing what it was.  [EDIT: It looks as if they do, and that may be the same one.  You can see the same whited-out windows.]  It appears the HFM has the only full-scale prototype of the Dymaxion House (I wonder if MoMA asked them for it--although it might have been far too difficult to move).  I went there as a young tot, and that place was just amazing to me as a little kid, by the way.  Giant steam locomotives, wheeee!  It just occurred to me, that may have been the start of my life-long love affair with cars.  If you're ever in Dearborn, Michigan--heaven help you--you should definitely go to see it.

--Image Bowlus-Teller Trailers
Surrounding it, they have all these blueprints and construction drawings for the Dymaxion Car, as well, which were very cool to see.  Its engineering was remarkably simple, in fact.  The only problem with their Dymaxion Car, though, is that its windows are whited out, so you can't see inside of it.  It's possible that this is only the shell, with none of the inner workings, but even so, it still would've been interesting to see how the body was constructed.  And if the blocked windows wasn't the Whitney's doing, then they absolutely should have a couple of the doors open so you could see inside it.

--Photo London Design Museum
On the upper floor are all of his architectural endeavors, the 4D House, the Dymaxion House, his U.S. Pavilion for the 1967 Montreal Expo (there's another connection, by the way: the MoMA show has a model of Moshe Safdie's Habitat 67, which I really, really, really, really should have gone to see when I was in Montreal last summer), and his Dymaxion World Map and his work with spheres and domes and so on.

This is just absolutely astonishing, too:

--Photo Cedrick Thevenet

I think the coolest thing to consider--aside from the fact that he was probably even more brilliant than I realized having heard over the years about so many of his contributions to our world--was how he was one of the first people to ever seriously think about sustainability.  The idea to make that a biosphere in the first place, and for him to be concerned with reconciling the proportions of world maps, shows this intense understanding, this universal perception of what the earth really is.

There's also this truly awesome telegram from him to Isamu Noguchi explaining Einstein's general theory of relativity.  Oh, and a monument floating above the East River he proposed for the United Nations (Eliasson again):
It'd have been very cool if they'd done a CGI rendering of that.  But the show has a lot of great illustrative drawings, fascinating models, videos, and a few interesting surprises.  The Whitney did a great job, once again.

The McCarthy is okay.  It's very abrasive, confrontational, and disorienting, which is obviously what the artist intended.  It's sort of the opposite side of the same coin as Eliasson, who makes the viewer a part of the work in an almost welcome, embracing sort of way, drawing your attention to how you occupy space very gently and serenely.  McCarthy's work downright attacks you with it.

I wanted to post a couple of these videos of his, too, because they are just sooooooo weird and creepy:
Of course a poignant and satirical critique of the art world and its personalities, but...yeah...weird.

This is so disgusting and disturbing on so many levels I couldn't help but just laugh (NOT for the weak of constitution):  

In any case, if you believe, as I do, that art shouldn't necessarily be comforting, but rather that it should push buttons, be provocative, and force us--even against our will, if necessary--to reevaluate our modes of thought, then for sure the McCarthy does plenty of that.

©2008, Ryan Witte

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