Monday, September 29, 2008

Chemistry Sets

Now I know I did pretty much trash the Guggenheim, and honestly their curatorial choices do make up for a lot of the failings in the building and their display tactics.  One really happy accident was the work of Koo Joeng-a.  This piece, Oslo (1998), is a giant pile of crushed aspirin:
There's definitely an interesting comment about chemical dependency here, or worlds of pharmaceutical financial might, but the others were a lot more fascinating.  There were several piles of pollen, HUGE conical piles, like a foot high, all from one type of flower.  Can you even imagine how long it would take to actually collect that much pollen?  And even if you don't have hay fever, that kind of project could give you hay fever, or some serious sinus problems.  It's such an incredible take on Earth Art, gathering it and bringing it into the gallery space, this BRIGHT vivid yellow, very geometric, almost scientific display of a substance of natural reproductive processes.

But the one I wanted to mention--and I really wish I could find something about this piece, its title or anything, because it was so remarkable--was a giant pile of salt, I think sea salt.  This pile of salt was probably five feet high, if not higher.  What was really incredible about it, and I think you'd only really get this at the Guggenheim with its spiralling floors, is that there was a stream of water flowing out the bottom of it.  I'm sure it very unintentionally, unexpectedly caused a major hassle for the maintenance people.

This giant mountain of salt was like a monstrous chemical machine for extracting moisture from the ambient air.  Absolutely brilliant, especially considering that humidity is so strictly controlled in museums.  I'm not even sure if the artist realized when the piece was conceived that it would act that way, but it did.  On a perfectly leveled gallery floor, like Noguchi would have demanded, the piece would never have done that, wept.  It might have looked a little gooey at the bottom of the mountain, but it wouldn't have wept.  The other thing that just now occurs to me is that the piece is constantly in the very natural, chemical process of eroding itself, self-destructing.  It extracts moisture from the air and bleeds salty water out the bottom.

So I will concede that the Guggenheim is not disastrous to sculpture 100% of the time.  This was just a happy accident, though, I suspect.

©2008, Ryan Witte

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