Monday, August 16, 2010
PARIS TO MINNEAPOLIS
By Nancy Doolan
I just got back from Paris where my focus was to visit the national modern art museum, Centre Pompidou, and view exhibitions relevant to the worldly contemporary art scene. In less than a week I’ll be heading out for another trip, this time to the Upper Midwest of the U.S., where I’ll be looking at contemporary trends in the museums of Milwaukee and Sheboygan in Wisconsin, and then in Minneapolis. How are these two different regions of the world looking at art?
I want to examine the American mid-west art scene in light of what I saw in Paris. How is it similar? Is it full of the same vitality? What are the concepts and who are the artists featured? In light of the proliferation of regional art and conceptualist trends in major cities across the globe, name recognition of artists can be like a game of pawns. One is never quite sure who is under the cup of fame.
The Pompidou was showing "Crossing nations and generations/ The Promises of The Past", featuring artists from Central and Eastern Europe, with a focus on Europe’s former East/West divide. It’s supposition is that art history is not linear and continuous. Some of the artists are Marina Abramovic, Sanja Ivekovic, Dimitrije Basicevic Mangelos, Julius Koller, Alina Szapocznikow and Edward Krasinski.
The installation art of Japanese artist, Tadashi Kawamata was the first thing you would see upon coming toward the museum. There was a shelter-like nest of wood boards assembled into the external steel framework of the Center, perched high up like a bird’s nest in a tree and projecting out into the surrounding sky.
The Kawamata exhibition was full of cardboard constructions overrun by children crawling in and out of boxes taped together into little playhouses. Cardboard lined the floors and walls and made the room smell pungent. Children could wander freely through little constructions and come across videos showing other works by the Kawamata.
In 1997 Kawamata installed a tangled pile of wood chairs and benches into the shape of a gigantic climbing form that arched up the side of the Saint-Louis Hospital Chapel, up to the cupola, evocative of a flying buttress from the Notre Dame Cathedral. This provocative image has often appeared in art publications. His installations might also be made up of recycled wood constructions in the tree of an urban setting, or wood palettes lining the walls and ceilings of a room.
One can characterize the work of Kawamata as constructed heaps of culturally produced multiples. While this would be the physical description of his art, there are strong conceptual implications to be unearthed in bits. To begin, one can talk about the pervasive production, functional manipulation, and repetitious appearance of cardboard as a generally unnoticed object of proliferation in the world. Kawamata’s Pompidou assemblage takes cardboard out from an underground, trodden sort of place and into the limelight. When one enters the gallery room, its ceiling, walls and floors covered with opened and stapled boxes, the pungent smell of processed fibers and glues overwhelms the senses and calls heed to the aberration of natural forms from trees to wood to glues and fibers. No longer fresh winds blowing through leaves, but more like what one might smell from something simultaneously innocuous and offensive.
However, I have affection for cardboard with its natural brown patina, soft resilience, light weighted nature, historic presence and symbolic reference to trees. Cardboard seems gentler than plastic, and closer to nature; less processed, less of the deconstruction and chemical voodoo that makes for modern containers. Cardboard is child friendly, as was demonstrated in the Kawamata show with children continuously turning floor- strewn boxes into spontaneously constructed huts and fortresses.
Tune in next time for more thoughts on my discoveries at the Center Pompidou.