The 'thingness' of art and finding meaning in materiality
Ha! I did a Substack with the exact same Sarah Lucas Chicken Nickers cover thumbnail last year for my Art Basel roundup. Love this work. One of my favorite evocative photos.
Yes, I agree re the shoulds, and I love the way you have phrased it Laurie. I have lots of interior whispers that I don’t let myself hear!
Thanks for exposing me to the work of Chun Kwang Young - a great example of art that resonates just upon seeing it and grows more compelling once you hear the story behind it. Your desire to touch the work resonated for me even seeing it via the video. Was particularly taken with his comment, what am I doing in America and went back home to his authentic place/roots. Sometimes I think the shoulds of the outside world make it too noisy to hear/follow the interior whispers.
This was such an enjoyable read to sink into on so many levels. I was thinking how relieved I was to not be the only one who really doesn't like the stark white walls of exhibitions. I saw a Monet show back in college, I think in Paris, that had been curated so that the light and the temperature darkened as his work was chronologically shown, so that by the end, when he was losing his eye-sight, the last pieces were hung in dim light on deep purple walls, so you had the sensation of straining to see. It was amazing and stays with me to this day. Also, same reaction when I first saw El Anatsui's work at the Fowler when he was first blowing up. The sheer shimmering beauty of it was like nothing I'd ever seen. I am going to try to make the show at the Tate if I can. And thanks for sharing again about Chun Kwang Young's work. I really want to see that work too. (I saw an amazing show in a chapel in Venice a few years back and the atmosphere was perfect for the work).
Hi. Thanks for this discussion and the tip about Chun Kwang Young’s work.
I've just come back from seeing El Anatsui's installion at Tate Modern (as well as the fantastic Philip Guston show) and I remember seeing Chun Kwang Young's incredible work in Edinburgh a few years ago. I think part of what draws us to these works is the sheer density of time they contain, the thousands and thousands of hours of painstaking work contained in their making. Somehow that gives them a kind of presence. It's as if they inhabit time differently and invite us to do the same, and to realise that each a single moment doesn't just have duration, it also has the potential for depth, for amplitude. I think certain spaces amplify this, while others dilute it, and the 'white cube' gallery is one of them.
I’d love to see that El Anatsui piece! I always get headaches in traditional galleries. They are so dry.
Certainly have gotten lost in El Anatsui works this way. Thanks for the great description of the piece.
Both the idea about the importance of the space in which art is shown and the idea of magnetism to a particular artwork are great ideas to ponder. Yes, there have been times when I am in the presence of "great" art (which I also think is great) but its placement makes me nonplussed, walking by rather quickly. Sometimes this is also due to the crowds in the room, while other times a crowd can make the art feel iconic and exciting. There is so much nuance and not an easy playbook for curators! I imagine it is difficult to fully grasp the concept before it's actually placed in the space.
A place I find interesting to look at art is an art fair - Art Basel in particular. Most of the time, I find it a bit overwhelming...there's just so much, not especially curated, and so many people. But then the magnetism of certain pieces shines through majestically, as if they have a certain aura that surpasses the experience. Last year, Hockney's huge mural depicting himself three times did this for me. I think it's also the intimacy of connection at these places - there are not many white taped lines or alarms, and there is the feeling that you can even take it home (ha!!), making it feel like you share something with the art rather than appreciating it from afar.
Thanks for this thought provoking post!
As a young teenager I went to the La Jolla Contemporary and experienced Tony Oursler for the first time... Wandering around a corner to a small room off another room and seeing a “baby” pinned under an overturned chair, the face a grotesque projection-- I was so compelled and repelled to share space with this thing, it has stuck with me for decades.
I can’t claim to know the artists work that you’re talking about but I do connect with the importance of context and curation. Also the lack of touch when visiting these touching exhibitions. It was marvellous when the YSP allowed touching on the Henry Moores but now due to some abuse they’ve reinstated cordons and no touch policy.
My works all about touch texture and tactile experience. Yet it’s been exhibited under these same restrictions. It’s very difficult to renegotiate these parameters. Imagine if you could touch those huge Anselm Keiffer drawings.
Lee Bontecou's early wall-hung sculptures would probably do for me what you are speaking about. They seem to exist as objects in space more than anything else.
A while ago there was a piece by Leslie Shows at the Bemis Gallery in my hometown of Omaha, made of hundreds of small objects she had cast out of pure sulfur. They were all sitting in a pile on the gallery floor, and I couldn't help myself . . . no one was watching, so I picked one up and licked it. It had a very mild sulfur taste.
You are absolutely speaking my language here! As an artist my work is all about engaging our multi sensory (and multidimensional) faculties. There is a profound disconnect problem in the art world, which puts us into our heads and egos, and ultimately alienates those who “don’t understand it” or feel it doesn’t engage them sufficiently. To me, art *should* be immersive, not put behind barriers like a museum artefact. We are missing out on so much of the real joy and depth of art when we’re not “allowed” to be in a fully connective relationship with it. Also: that curtain is stunning, and though I haven’t seen it in real life, I can absolutely feel what my visceral, embodied reaction might be. Thank you for sharing!
Thanks for another interesting and thoughtful post. You’ve reminded me of a sculptural artwork I saw recently by Alice Channer, which consists of shiny pleated fabric. It’s large, and I wanted to feel the fabric in all its tightness of form and smoothness. I might put a pic on Notes.
Oh yes! I love this - I once saw a giant flower sculpture by Petrit Halilaj & Alvaro Urbano in Arken Museum in Denmark. It had been hung in the corner of a sort of corridor with a low ceiling, against a dark blue wall, which made the physicality of it so intense - I rounded the corner and saw it and immediately burst into tears. It was so huge and beautiful and unexpected - such clever hanging.
El Anatsui’s work is beautiful. I think the setting of an old shop added to the history and antiquity of his pieces, making it a jewel that you have discovered. This would be lost in a white wall environment but maybe the actual form of the sculpture as a whole would be different but nevertheless a big impact as did the sculpture in the Tate