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Open Ends

The Museum of Modern Art, New York

"Medusa's Head" by Chris Burden

"Medusa's Head" by Chris Burden, 1989-1992, plywood, steel, cement,rock, five gauges of model railroad track, seven scale-model trains, 14 feet in diameter, purchase.

By Carter B. Horsley

"Open Ends" is the third and last installment of the Museum of Modern Art's "MoMA2000," its final exhibition before it closes for the reconstruction of its buildings and expansion, which will not be completed until 2004. The three exhibition "cycles" are intended by the museum to "mark the millennium."

"Open Ends" consists of 11 different exhibitions of art since 1960 from its collections. Like the first two "cycles," this one takes an interdisciplinary approach rather than traditional chronological approach by examining relationships and themes as well as "conflicting points of view by juxtaposing works of art in new and challenging ways," Glenn D. Lowry, the museum's director, declared in his foreword to the exhibition catalogue, "Open Ends," which reproduces 554 artworks in the collection made after 1980, but does not include all the works in the exhibitions. In his introductory essay to the catalogue, Kirk Varnedoe explained that "it soon became clear that it would be impossible, in one volume, to feature the better-known works of the 1960s and 1970s - including, for example, the masterworks of Pop and Minimalism - and also to showcase the richness of the Museum's acquisitions of recent art of the 1980s and 1990s."

"Each cycle," Mr. Lowry continued, "should be seen as an experiment designed to offer a different reading or understanding of modern art while providing a more thorough investigation of the depth and breadth of the collection."

"The collecting of contemporary art has, in the past few decades," Mr. Varnedoe continued, "challenged the Museum's structures, both physical and organizational, in several ways. Most evidently, the scale of many important works in painting and sculpture has increased beyond the ability of the institution's building to contain them, and the sprawling space requirements of other works - especially in the area of installation art, but also in photography, drawing, and print-making - have imposed sharp limitations on what can be on view at any given time. We hope to address these challenges by the dramatic increase in open, high-ceilinged galleries for contemporary art in the new Museum building designed by Yoshio Taniguchi" (see The City Review article on the new building).

Five of the 11 parts of "Open Ends" opened in the fall of 2000 and will close January 2, 2001:
"Architecture Hot and Cole"; "Innocence and Experience"; "Matter"; "One Thing After Another"; and "Pop and After." Four of the 11 parts will close January 30, 2001: "Minimalism and After"; "The Path of Resistance"; "Counter-Monuments and Memory"; and "White Spectrum." Two of the 11 parts will close March 4, 2001: "Actual Size" and "Sets and Situations."

part of "F-111" by James Rosenquist

Part of "F-111" by James Rosenquist, 1964-5

In addition, "Open Ends" include banners by Janine Antoni, Shahzia Sikander and Kara Walker that will be displayed on the museum's façade through March 13, 2001, and several large-scale works and installations whose closing dates have yet to be determined. These works and installations include "F-111," a very large 1964-5 painting by James Rosenquist, part of which is shown above, and "Broken Obelisk," a 1963-9 sculpture by Barnett Newman.

"Water Tower" by Rachel Whiteread

"Water Tower" by Rachel Whiteread, 1998, translucent resin, 12 feet 2 inches high, given anonymously

Other installations include "October 18, 1977," a 1988 work by Gerhard Richter, "Untitled Film Stills" taken by Cindy Sherman 1978-1981, "Water Tower," a 1998 work by Rachel Whiteread, shown above, and "Borrowing Your Enemy's Arrows," a 1998 work by Cai Guo-Qiang, shown below.

"Borrowing Your Enemy's Arrows" by Cai Guo-Qiang and "Broken Obelisk" by Barnett Newman

"Borrowing Your Enemy's Arrows" by Cai Guo-Qiang, 1998, foreground, wood boat, canvas sail, arrows, metal, rope, Chinese flag and electric fan, 23 feet 7 inches long, gift of Patricia Phelps de Cisneros in honor of Glenn D. Lowry; and "Broken Obelisk" by Barnett Newman, background, 1963-9,

Much of the exhibition can be viewed on the Internet at the museum's excellent website at http://www.moma.org/exhibitions/openends/open_ends.html.

The exhibition's large-scale artworks are quite impressive, much more so than the very large number of photographs and film stills on view.

Several of the exhibition's sections that are not included in the "Open Ends" catalogue have gallery brochures.

Pop and After

"Hammer and Sickle" by Andy Warhol, "African-American Flag" by David Hammons and "Flag" by Jasper Johns

"Hammer and Sickle" by Andy Warhol, left, ; "African-American Flag" by David Hammons, center; and "Flag" by Jasper Johns, right

The brochure for one such gallery, "Pop and After," provides the following commentary:

"Adjustable Wall Bra" by Vito Acconci

"Adjustable Wall Bra" by Vito Acconci, plaster, steel, canvas, electrical lightbulbs, and audio equipment, Sid R. Bass Fund and purchase, 1990-1

"Pop art may seem simple. Against the moral seriousness claimed by abstract painting in the 1950s, or in contrast to the ascetic Conceptual art of the 1970s, its gaudy commercialism may seem just a flash-in-the-pan episode of day-glo indulgence. But Pop held complex attitudes in unstable collusion, and its tent covered widely varying temperaments, both in America and abroad. Especially since the 1980s, Pop's methods and motifs have become touchstones for countless artists concerned with the intersections between public language and private consciousness….Pop art often shocked by giving banal little things monumental significance. Claes Oldenberg's soft sculptures (such as Floor Cone, 1962) are prime examples. These objects, connected to the participatory theater of happenings in the early 1860s, had already spurned sculpture;s traditional pedestals and upright rigidity to act with fresh immediacy on our body-consciousness. But Vito Acconci's gigantesque Adjustable Wall Bra (1990-91), shown above, is an ongoing event in itself, that incorporates the viewer: each cup provides seating, with surrounding music and the sounds of breathing. Its connections are with performance pieces of the 1970s, self-conscious essays in social psychology, where the artist inserted his private obsessions into public situations….A delight in red-lipped, big-breasted pin-ups was typical of the Pop artists' cheeky love of cheap clichés. It was also connected to a moment in America when the cultural assertion of sexuality, even in such exclusively male fantasies, still seemed to be liberating for everyone. Pop's daylight erotica was a matter of common cheesecake rather than of dark taboos and inner demons, and, like a lot of the rest of Pop, it held pleasure and irony in peculiar concert. It is just that happy balance that gets skewed - or skewered - in Jeff Koons's Pink Panther (1988). [See a version of it reproduced in The City Review article on the Contemporary Art Auction at Christie's November 16, 1999 where it sold for $1,817,500 including the buyer's premium.] This souvenir-stand vision of depilated peroxide erotica has an over-the-top quality of pneumatic fantasy that makes Pop's sexpots seem innocently hearty by comparison. Koon's deadhanded distance - the glossy ceramic's fabrication was commissioned from artisans - is another way in which he puts fresh asperity into the uneasy meldings of heat and ice, kitsch and art, that Pop had essayed. But the mass imagery of sex presented very different issues for female artists such as Cindy Sherman. She deflated Pop fantasies by inhabiting them herself, turning the conventions of commercial seduction into clumsy costume playlets in a way that rendered them hollow."

"32 Campbell's Soup Cans" by Andy Warhol

"32 Campbell's Soup Cans" by Andy Warhol, 1962

"Andy Warhol's 1962 array of thirty-two Campbell's Soup Cans, shown above, is one of Pop's most potent emblems of American commercial life, embodying both run-on abundance and repetitious monotony. Its twinned attention to packaging and consumption has resonated, with sharp contemporary twists, in the work of countless younger artists….Jasper Johns's Flag of 1958 helped launch Pop, both because Johns chose to work with 'things the mind already knows,' and because his painting seemed to become one with the emblem it represented. Since the 1960's, artists have often refashioned John's gesture. They have, for example, focused on the idea that viewers have many minds, which produces an impure social condition of 'already knowning.' Andy Warhol's Hammer and Sickle (1976), and David Hammon's African-American Flag (1990), are both pointedly abut public signs that divide people's perceptions.Warhol's 'Soviet' play of shadow and substance ironically mimes the gestural painting that was so often associated with 'all-American' freedoms in earlier Cold War propaganda. Hammons, by contrast, works against Old Glory from the inside out. Imposing a palette of black, green, and red often associated with Africa, in order to emblazon racial schism, he also moves a step beyond John's partial identity of art-work and object, abandoning paint and personal touch to produce a banner as functional as it is fictional."

Protest

The exhibition's section entitled "The Path of Resistance" has a brochure that offers the following commentary:

"Cleaning The Drapes" by Martha Rosler

"Cleaning The Drapes" by Martha Rosler, photocollage, 1969-72

In "Cleaning the Drapes, her photocollage of 1969-72, shown above, Martha Rosler depicts a housewife too preoccupied with her chores to notice a war raging outside her window, as much a sly comment on the stifling effects of domestic isolation on women as on our wish to deny the horrors of Vietnam….By the 1980s, the popularity of street protest had waned, and some of the most overt forms of institutionalized discrimination had vanished. What still persisted, however, were the painful and difficult realities of bigotry and intolerance, so abstract in nature as to elude literal interpretation and so deeply ingrained in our culture and history as to defy clear solutions. Recognizing this, the more successful political artists of the last two decades have confronted these pervasive and seemingly intractable problems by complicating rather than simplifying our understanding of them. Felix Gonzalez-Torres, an openly gay artist of Hispanic descent, who die of AIDS-related causes in 1996, created works that entice viewers with their seductive beauty and engage them in multiple, elusive meanings. The seven paper cones of his "Untitled" (Supreme Majority) (1991), shown below, seem at first glance to belong to the rarefied world of Minimalist abstraction, but on closer examination they resemble dunce caps, Ku Klux Klan hoods, or the spiked peaks and valleys of opinion polls. As the title suggests, the cones can thus be seen as an oblique rebuke to the demagogy of the recent political landscape, or as an allusion to the seven Supreme Court justices appointed by Presidents Reagan and Bush."

"Untitled (Supreme Majority" by Felix Gonzales-Torres

"Untitled (Supreme Majority)" by Felix Gonzales-Torres,paper, seven parts, fractional gift of Werner and Elaine Dannheisser, estate of Felix Gonzales-Torres, courtesy Andrea Rosen Gallery, 1991

Fabricated Photography

In her catalogue essay, "Sets and Situations," M. Darsie Alexander observes that many contemporary artists such as Gregory Crewdson, "have forsaken the tradition of photographing the world of everyday events in order to fashion their own alternate realities, creating sets and situations exclusively for the camera," adding that "working in this state of 'retreat' from the outside world has enabled them to exert a high level of control." "A shift toward what has been termed 'fabricated photography' or 'the photography of invention' came about gradually, the result of a growing awareness of photography's fictionalizing attributes. During the 1960s, artists and critics began to challenge many of the prevailing assumptions about photography's objectivity, examining how the meaning of an image can be shaped by many factors, from the politics of its maker to the context of its presentation.," the essay continued. Artists included in this section of the exhibition also include James Casebere, Laurie Simmons, Cindy Sherman and Philip-Lorca diCorcia.

Design Object Hypocrisy and Ethics

"After the sensory and material overdrive of the 1980s, the design world now privileges simplicity and originality," according to Paola Antonelli in her catalogue essay, "Mind Over Matter In Contemporary Design." A Dutch collective Droog Design created in 1993 had a minimalist aesthetic and, Antonelli observed, "the apparent modesty of the objects of Droog Design, made of recycled parts and using visibly low technology, was crowned by unexpectedly high prices." "Droog Design," she continued, "became the international symbol of a new less-is-more approach and of a political correctness in design, so dry and visually spare as to look impoverished - an illusion supported neither by the manufacturing process nor by the retail prices. Thus a deeply ingrained character of hypocrisy entered the functional arts in the early 1990s. Among the most renowned objects from this period in the Museum's collection are Tejo Memy's 1991 'You Can't Lay Down Your Memory' Chest of Drawers…and Rody Grauman's 1992 work, 85 Lamps Lighting Fixture…, and Hella Jongerius's Soft Vase of 1994….Just like the 1950s, these are optimistic times, marked by a renewed attention to domestic living and human mobility, guided by concerns abut the environment and by a strong international political consciousness, and fueled by exuberant progress in technological research. In contemporary design, ethics are as important as aesthetics, and morality - even moralism - inspires many contemporary 'users' to rid themselves of redundancies. As a consequence, the design landscape has changed during the past twenty years. Furniture has become sleeker, and less formal and impertinent. Accessories have become smaller, more personalized, and easier to use….The substances we used to know and recognize have become the basic ingredients for unexpected combinations, opening up a new world of possibilities for designers and manufacturers." Among the artists represented in this section of the exhibition are Mary Ann Toots Zinsky, Shiro Kuramata and Fernando and Humberto Campana.

Globalization

In "Home and Away," Fereshteh Daftari writes about globalization and the work of Cai Guo-Giang:

"Born in Quanzhou, in the Fujian province of China, he studied in Shanghai, has exhibited in Asia, Europe, America, Australia, and south Africa, and now resides in New York - there he first showed Borrowing Your Enemy's Arrows…, a sculpture that embodies a metaphor for cross-cultural exchange. The work is built on the skeleton of an old, fishing boat, excavated near the port where the artist began his personal journey. Bristling with 3,000 arrows designed by the artist, and fabricated in his native city, the ship flies the flag of contemporary China, but refers to the nation's deeper history. Historical texts (known as sanguozhi) recount how General Zhuge Liang, lacking ammunition in the face of a heavily armed enemy, was ordered to procure 10,000 arrows in ten days. The legend recounts that, on a foggy night, the general sent a boat loaded with bales of straw across the river, toward his foes. When the enemy had fired volley after volley of arrows at this decoy, the general pulled it back, full of a captured store of fresh ammunition. One subject of the sculpture, then, is how a culture may appropriate and transform foreign intrusions into a defensive strategy."

Daftari also writes about the artist KCHO (Alexis Leyva Machado) and his artwork, The Infinite Column I, which was made in Cuba, and has as a theme a boat, but is about immigration:

"The Infinite Column I is in part a conscious homage - in its title, its form, and its artisanal mode of production - to the early former sculptor Constantin Brancusi, who himself drew constantly on the folk traditions of his native Romania while living in Paris. Brancusi's major outdoor monument, a 1938 war memorial, includes a stacked and modular Endless Column made of steel. KCHO's open-lattice structure, seemingly jury-rigged from building scrap and common hardware, has a very different character. As flimsy as a drawing outlining a dream, it is willfully precarious and provisory. Embodying the triumph of aspiring ambition over impoverished means, these multiplied boat forms, rising upward, irresistibly conjure the worldwide migratory phenomenon of 'boat people,' fleeing their homelands - even if the sculpture, and its creator, elude any simple political categorization. KCHO's boats may in fact be traveling to the Cuban main island (and Havana) from his destitute native Isla de la Juventud. Poetically ethereal yet monumental and looming, his ascending, gyrating boats open onto the broader meanings of voyage and transit, freighted with both hope and peril."

Another artist in this section is Mona Hatoum, who was born in Beirut to Christian Palestinian parents, but since 1975 has been based in England.

"The forms of her work," according to Daftari, "reflect the West and her British art training, but the content is more personal and less easy to associate with any one culture. Often her expression involves the use of, or reference to, the body - a device that may reflect what she says is the absence, in her Palestinian inheritance, of a simplistic mind-body dichotomy, but one that is also intimately tied to the epoch of AIDS and its broader artistic renewals of an often macabre fascination with the corporeal and organic. Silence…, for example, made of test tubes on which the movement of light gives the illusion of fluid traveling in transparent arteries, seems quietly to fight for its own life. More generally, elements of instability - a lack of anchoring, slippery ground, shifting maps, and dangerous terrain - define the experience of much of Hatoum's art, and its lingering sense of deracination."

Another artist in this section is Chris Ofili, who was born in Europe as the son of Nigerian immigrants and now lives in London. "The vehicles of his expression - intricately worked paintings that seem at once gaudy, pungent, and tender - are extravagant hybrid fictions….As a sophisticated young member of a lively urban art community, Ofili is fully conversant with long-standing debates pitting abstraction against figuration, craft against ready-made appropriation, and so on. Hence the hybrids in his work bring together not only inflections of different cultures, but also elements of opposing approaches within modern Western art. The highly decorative, cake-icing surface, for example, seems right in step with certain trends of the 1990s, but its swarming fields of small resin dots actually stem from dot drawings the artist saw in Zimbabwe. The elephant dung offers a still more complex origin. An appropriated, 'transgressive' ready-made material taken from the London zoo, it also conjures up African tribal art, where its presence is affirmative and even sacred. Its inclusion suggests an outsider translating European strategies, and, at the same time, an exile looking back with a new eye on indigenous practices."

Daftari notes that globalization poses a number of questions: "Are the borrowings from and minglings of references from marginalized cultures only a savvy strategy of 'niche marketing,' bound eventually to exhaust the freshness of their appeal, or are they the signal of a growing wave of art that will render obsolete many of the frontiers, boundaries, and self-enclosed traditions that have so determining? Is this a phenomenon of greater tolerance of expanded diversity, or only the cloak for an increasing homogenization? In all the cases touched on here, fluency in the language of Western art has been a requisite for access to the global sphere of exhibitions, museums, galleries, and journals. It may be fair, then, to wonder whether, in the process of featuring and enabling difference, the new art world is ultimately weakening the authority of any zone of resistance, such as those artists who choose not to speak in the current vernacular of the marketplace."

Monumentality

"Post-World War II artists have systematically engaged in an aesthetic interrogation and implicit rejection of the monumental," observed Roxana Marcoci in her catalogue essay, "The Vanishing Monument and the Archive of Memory."

"The advent of 'counter-monuments' (monuments conceived to undermine the premises of their own being) in the late 1960s," she continued, "constitutes an effective visual component to the period's protests over war and civil-rights issues. An early instance is Barnett Newman's Broken Obelisk, 1963-69, a twenty-six-foot-tall pillar forged on the unstable-looking tip-to-tip junction of an upright pyramid and an up-ended obelisk with a fractured shaft. Dedicated to Martin Luther King, Jr., following his assassination in 1968, the work at once presents a conventional heroic form and reverses public expectations of it."

"In his Proposal for a Monument to the Survival of the University of El Salvador: Blasted Pencil (That Still Writes), 1984…, Claes Oldenburg imagined a huge pencil as a monument, but presented it shattered , under erasure. Its point, however, is intact: this is a pencil 'that still writes,' and thus continues to tell its story. Memory survives uncensored. Felix Gonzalez-Torres's 'Untitled' (Death by Gun), 1990…, is a more particular analysis of violence, this time on the home front. Evoking the monolithic configuration of one of Donald Judd's Minimalist modules, the work is in fact transient, consisting of a stack of paper sheets that are steadily replaced as viewers, by invitation, take them away. On each sheet are printed the names of 464 Americans killed by guns in a one-week period, along with the photographs and other personal data," Ms. Marcoci wrote.

"Untitled (Paperbacks)" by Rachel Whiteread

"Untitled (Paperbacks)" by Rachel Whiteread, room installation, containing plaster and steel, gift of Agnes Gund; Thomas W. Weisel, Patricia Phelps de Cisneros, Frances R. Dittmer, John Kaldor, Emily Rauh Pulitzer, and Leon Black funds, and an anonymous fund, 1997

Rachel Whiteread turns, she maintained, to "the notion of interiority…of the literal inversion of space, to dig into the pool of memory and collective history. Her casts in plaster, wax, rubber, resin, or concrete, which range from domestic objects to full-scale rooms…, convey a sense of history even as they signal human absence. Untitled (Paperbacks), 1997, [shown above]…, is the negative cast of a walk-in library, where row upon row of paperbacks, shelved spine inward, double as a mnemonic field."

Architecture

"The 'skin-and-bones' interpretation of the glass box favored not only a sense of absolute transparency but also - in Miesian architecture - an exposition of structural clarity. Toyo Ito's 1995 Mediathèque Project in Sendai, Japan, with its writhing trunklike supports, suggests that alternate structural readings are not only possible but also highly provocative," wrote Terence Riley in his catalogue essay, "Relentlessly Transparent."

Mediathèque project by Toyo Ito

Model of Mediathèque project in Sendai, Japan by Toyo Ito, 1995, acrylic, model, 31 1/2 inches long, gift of the architect in honor of Philip Johnson

Other architects whose works appear in this section include S.I.T.E., Steven Holl, Zaha M. Hadid, whose 1991 "Hong Kong Peak Competition" is shown below, and Peter Eisenman.

"Hong Kong Peak Competition" by Zaha M. Hadid

"Hong Kong Peak Competition," 1991, exterior perspective, by Zaha M. Hadid, acrylic on paper mounted on canvas, 51 by 72 inches, David Rockefeller Jr. Fund

"Open Ends" is a difficult, dense exhibition to comprehend as it deals with too many themes and is very large. The brochures in some of the galleries help a lot and are well-written, but too much of the material presented is not clearly decipherable as to its import and intentions for the average layman. Much of the "art" shown here has little discernible aesthetics and requires explanation. Some of the larger installations, such as "Borrowing Your Enemy's Arrows" by Cai Guo-Qiang, are immensely intriguing and impressive without accompanying explanations, but many of the photographs in the exhibition cannot really stand on their own as artistic objects and are better described as self-inflated indulgences of little consequence. The catalogue's essays are generally quite good, but discuss only a few of the many objects on view.

Like the first two parts of the three-part exhibition, many of the shows started and ended their "run" earlier than others, due one suspects to the daunting logistics. All of the individual parts of the exhibitions really deserved their own full-fledged shows and the disparate themes however interesting became something of a blur for some visitors to the museum, a situation not helped by the fact that there were multiple catalogues that did not include everything.

The museum's commitment to experiment with ways of exhibiting art other than chronologically cannot be faulted, but hopefully the chronological approach will not be completely abandoned for it has its merits. One of the sections of the current show has to do with scale. Many of the photographs are relatively small and it becomes somewhat difficult in crowded galleries to get close to the labels to decipher everything. On the other hand, one worries a bit that the museum's obvious interest in things contemporary may result in many large-scale works taking up a disproportionate amount of precious gallery space even in the expanded new structures. One also might question the commitment to contemporary art if it begins to crowd out its acquisition of important earlier, "modern" works of art. That said, there is plenty of provocative and interesting work in this exhibition even if it is uneven. It could be said the exhibit is not for the weak of mind.

Visit the Museum of Modern Art's excellent website on this exhibition

See The City Review article on ModernStarts exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art

See The City Review article on Making Choices exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art

 

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