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Pipilotti Rist. Photograph: Giorgio von Arb/Courtesy the artist, Hauser & Wirth and Luhring

If you’re unfamiliar with the artist Pipilotti Rist, your first encounter with her work could prove surreal: at the end of this month, to coincide with her major solo exhibition at London’s Hayward gallery, she will hang a string of 300 pairs of white underpants along the south bank of the Thames. The pants, in three sizes, will be lit from within to form a bizarre outdoor light sculpture called Hip Lights, one of two new works that Rist has created specially for the Hayward show.

“From a distance,” Rist tells me by phone from her studio in her native Switzerland, “they will look like whipped cream. Or sheep’s heads, with the legs of the pants forming the eyes. I hope they will make people smile, but also think about the relationship we have with this important, sexually charged area in the middle of our bodies. We all come out from between our mother’s legs. From there that we first see the light of the world.”

This preoccupation with the body – and the female body in particular – underpins much of her art, which encompasses sculpture, audio and video installations. In her 1996 film I’m Not the Girl Who Misses Much, Rist dances frenetically for the camera, her breasts bare. And in 1992’s Pickelporno, lurid images of leaves and flowers are overlaid with erotic closeups of writhing lovers.


Laura Barnett

For her first major museum retrospective, veteran performance artist Marina Abramovic will spend more than three months in the Museum of Modern Art’s large second floor atrium sitting at a small table.

For hours a day she will sit in silence, while visitors can take an empty chair across the table from her and become part of the performance. “The title of the exhibition is ‘The Artist is Present’. I wanted to take this literally and make my presence visible during the entire presentation,” Abramovic told The Art Newspaper a month before the show’s opening.

Abramovic is known for her physically and mentally demanding work, such as when she spent 12 days living on public display in Sean Kelly Gallery for The House with the Ocean View, 2002, and this performance is no different.


Art Newspaper

With the available money for ambitious new buildings having shrunk to almost nothing in this country — and with firms continuing to downsize in brutal fashion — where will architectural ideas come from, and where will they wind up? What kind of impact will they have on the wider culture?

Those are among the tricky questions raised by “Contemplating the Void,” an exhibition that opened last week at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. As part of its ongoing 50th anniversary celebration, the museum invited nearly 200 architects, artists and designers to propose fanciful new uses for the 90-foot-high rotunda of its Frank Lloyd Wright-designed building. Curators Nancy Spector and David van der Leer asked the participants, whose biggest names include Anish Kapoor, Zaha Hadid, Richard Meier, Toyo Ito and Rachel Whiteread, to leave “practicality and even reality behind” as they produced ideas for filling the space inside Wright’s famous spiraling ramp.


Christopher Hawthorne
Los Angeles Times

Tino Sehgal has managed to fill the Guggenheim without giving us much to see. But there is plenty to like, not the least of which is the interior of the Frank Lloyd Wright monument to Frank Lloyd Wright. The Guggenheim, all spiffed up at last, has never looked better. It’s the 50th anniversary. My, how time flies…or doesn’t.

The mother of all museums-as-icons (which is a lot to answer for), the kooky Guggie presently looks particularly good because there are none of those annoying paintings by Kandinsky getting in the way of the architecture. Also, the architecture in the 1936 film Things to Come has long been forgotten, as has the 1939 New York World’s Fair and numerous washing machines that predated the look of Wright’s pregnant building — the inside of which is now all lobby, definitely a first.


John Perreault

A detail from The Hoerengracht, the Kienholzes’ life-size recreation of a section of Amsterdam’s red-light district (1983-86), to be shown at the National Gallery. Photograph: Edward and Nancy Reddin Kienholz

The first time you see it is a blast, a rush, a shock. It’s a nightmarish place and yet utterly compelling; a seductive hell, a vision of the grotesque that is somehow more fascinating than beauty.

The second time, you can’t wait. It is the highlight of a holiday in Amsterdam. I’m talking about The Beanery by Ed Kienholz, one of the most compelling installations ever made, and one of the most memorable works of late 20th-century art. It belongs to the Stedelijk Museum, which is due to reopen after an architectural overhaul. I hope it will now be kept on permanent display there – it drove me nuts to visit Amsterdam a few years ago and find The Beanery had been taken off view in some kind of half-baked sub-Tate rehang. This is one of the masterpieces of modern times and it needs to be on permanent view in the same way the Rothko paintings at Tate Modern do, or the Richard Serra installation at the Guggenheim Bilbao.


Jonathan Jones

“Pink Tons” by Roni Horn (Photo: Hauser & Wirth Hermann Feldhaus/Hauser & Wirth)

From a review of the Roni Horn show at the Whitney:

Ms. Horn’s work has both benefited and suffered from being what might be called “curators’ art.” Curators’ art is indisputably, even innocuously, elegant — with clear roots in Minimal and Conceptual Art and not much else. It tends to be profusely appreciated by a hermetic few, curators, artists and theorists, who fetishize its refinements and often take its creators pretty much at their word. Ms. Horn has always had a lot to say about what her work means and how it is to be viewed, and some of it is quite interesting, but artists don’t own the meaning of their artworks.


Roberta Smith
New York Times

In an atrium at MoMA, the Chinese artist Song Dong has arrayed all the contents of his mother’s former home (Todd Heisler/The New York Times)

The Museum of Modern Art’s multistory atrium seems designed to hold monuments. But at the moment it’s filled with the distinctly ungrand contents of one person’s everyday life.

The person is, or was, Zhao Xiangyuan. She was born in China in 1938 and died in Beijing in January. For nearly 60 years she lived in the city with her husband and two children in a tiny house crammed with domestic odds and ends — clothes, books, kitchen utensils, toiletries, school supplies, shopping bags, rice bowls, dolls — which were used, then recycled, then indiscriminately hoarded. Now the entire cache, every odd button and ballpoint pen, is at MoMA, along with Ms. Zhao’s fridge and bed.

How did it get here? Ms. Zhao was the mother of the artist Song Dong, one of the most inventive figures in contemporary Chinese art. He is often referred to as a Conceptualist, meaning an artist who trades as much in ideas as in materials. And it was he who had the idea of turning the contents of his mother’s home, which was also his childhood home, into the installation titled “Waste Not.” It is at once a record of a life, a history of a half-century of Chinese vernacular culture and a symbolic archive of impermanence.

Although new Chinese art has a reputation for brash iconoclasm, loss is really its big subject. Political Pop painting may be big at auctions, but much of the most interesting new work is less about attacking the powers that be than about regretting the diminishment of the powers that were, or might have been: familial cohesion, social stability and spiritual certainty. In this respect, China’s new art is very much on a continuum with its old art, specifically with the tradition of landscape painting with reiterated motifs of changing seasons, parting friends and dreams of a golden age.

Mr. Song has, in complicated ways, been on this track for some time. He was born in Beijing in 1966, on the very eve of the Cultural Revolution, a period of ideological danger and economic want. His mother came from a wealthy family that lost everything after one of its members was jailed as an anti-Communist spy. His father, trained as an engineer, spent seven years in forced labor after being accused of counterrevolutionary activity.

Purely to survive, his parents adhered to the Cultural Revolutionary dictum of frugality in daily life, with his mother carrying conservation to extravagant lengths. In an ever-more-crowded environment, Mr. Song started painting early and prolifically — his mother encouraged him, his father did not — but suddenly stopped in 1989 after the bloody events at Tiananmen Square. He went into retreat, and when he publicly resumed work a few years later, it was in the mediums of performance, video and photography.

In 1995 he began the practice of keeping a daily diary, writing the entries on a flat stone, using clear water instead of ink so the words disappeared. On a visit to Tibet he had himself photographed repeatedly striking the surface of the Lhasa River with an archaic Chinese seal, a stamp of authority that left no imprint.

On a frigid New Year’s Eve in 1996, he lay face down in a deserted Tiananmen Square for 40 minutes until his warm breath had created a thin sheet of ice that shimmered on the dark pavement for a few hours before disappearing. He did the same thing on a frozen lake called the Back Sea in a park in Beijing, only there his breath made no impression: he couldn’t create ice on top of ice.

That two-part piece clearly had a political dimension, though an ambiguous one. It seemed to suggest that in a powerfully antagonistic setting like Tiananmen Square, a single person might effect a change, though it could only be minor and fleeting. In nature, that great source of Taoist art, no change could be made because none was necessary: everything, positive and negative, was absorbed into it.


Holland Cotter
New York Times

The Shift, by Richard Serra

Other than maybe patching up a “few cracks in it,” Richard Serra says he isn’t worried about Shift (1970-1972), the American sculptor’s stone work on a rugged stretch of farmland near King City.

But many local residents continue to fret about the future of the meandering wall-like structure adjacent to Keele St. until it is officially protected under the Ontario Heritage Act…

“You can find many pieces (by others) which came after Shift,” [Richard Serra] says on the phone from his New York office. “They have direct links back to that piece.”

Now best known since the ’80s for his enormous work made from Cor-Ten steel and situated in urban spaces, Serra in the ’70s worked in parallel with the late Robert Smithson in forwarding the very macho idea of land art.

Serra reminds me that he helped “stake out” Smithson’s Spiral Jetty (1970), the mammoth earth piece spooling out into the chemically tinctured Great Salt Lake in Utah that’s arguably still the best known earthwork on the planet.

Spiral Jetty is best seen by way of an aerial view from an airplane. “But Shift was really about an insertion into the landscape,” says Serra. “To me it was a breakthrough piece,” the 68-year-old artist goes on. “There wasn’t any precursor for that kind of work. No one had yet used the measure of one’s body walking to deal with the perception of elevation and the rise and fall of the landscape. (Shift) was determined by two people walking in opposite directions.

“We had an engineer who took core samplings so that we could put its foundations as deep as they needed to be in order to sustain the load. So far it’s proven to be correct. Because if it does crack there’s going to be a problem in terms of the alignment and the piece might get out of plumb. There hasn’t been a structural upheaving yet.”

Securing a colossal Serra work seems to be a must for any new arts space. The 2005 installation of the New York sculptor’s Tilted Spheres (2002-2004) literally affected construction of Pearson airport’s new Terminal 1 to make room for the work’s four mammoth plates, each 4.54 metres high.

Serra’s 1,000-plus-tonne sculpture The Material of Time is the centrepiece of the titanium-clad Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, northern Spain, along with an earlier work, Snake. Only this month these works have caused Basque cultural figures in Bilbao an equally mammoth guilt-trip. Originally expecting to pay some $30.5 million (Canadian) for the work in 2005, museum officials admitted they must now pay about $9 million more due to a “mistaken” calculation in currency exchange rates.

Serra only just finished installing two new pieces in the Broad Contemporary Art Museum, part of the newly renovated Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) due to open Feb. 16. Sequence, on loan, may eventually end up in a new contemporary museum proposed for San Francisco, Serra’s hometown, by Gap founder Donald Fisher. Band, “a more abstract piece,” in Serra’s view, remains at LACMA. “It is hard to understand,” says Serra. “It has a very fast, ground-hugging motion to it.”

In April he’ll begin installation on yet another large-scale work. It opens May 6 in Paris’ Grand Palais as part of its Monumenta series, which began last year with Anselm Kiefer.

“It is probably the biggest indoor site in Europe,” says Serra. “The piece will have 12 elements 120 feet apart.”

Yet, he balks at the term “monumental” being attached to his work. “I don’t know of any sculpture that’s not figurative that’s monumental,” he says. “Monuments signify a code that has usually something to do with a personage or an event. I build a lot of landscape pieces that are not monumental.”

Peter Goddard
The Toronto Star

Tara Donovan, “Untitled (Pins)”
(Image courtesy of the Boston Globe)

Tara Donovan’s pins are hard to miss. There are thousands of them upstairs at the new Institute of Contemporary Art. They’re smushed together almost as if dropped into a trash compactor, except instead of being bent, they form a 3½-foot-tall block of sinewy, shiny metal. This is art, and it sits in the center of a gallery at the ICA, one of the signature pieces of the museum’s collection.

Stare at “Untitled (Pins),” and you’re likely to have questions. How does this cube stick together? Is it solid or a kind of pin shell? And what of the artist? Did Donovan get pricked as she manipulated the piece? Was she wearing protective gloves? What kind of care and persistence did it require for her to turn these thousands of glittering pins into such a perfect square?

One thing you might not expect: Donovan didn’t put “Untitled (Pins)” together at all. The New York City artist figured out how to shape a mass of pins and sent instructions to the museum; the work was assembled in July, and again in August, entirely by the hands of ICA employees.

Surprised? Don’t be. Like any museum of contemporary art, the ICA is full of works built by somebody other than the artist, from Kelly Sherman’s Foster Prize-winning “Wish Lists,” a collection of personal wish lists gathered from the Internet, to “Cell (Hand and Mirror),” a mysterious Louise Bourgeois piece featuring a pair of carved marble hands in the center of miniature room.
In Cambridge, Harvard’s Carpenter Center was recently home to an installation piece of cellophane-wrapped candies laid in a golden carpet across the ground floor of the center. The work is credited to Felix Gonzalez-Torres, but was actually built by curator Helen Molesworth. (Gonzalez-Torres died in 1996.) At the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams, several pieces in the Spencer Finch exhibit – including a majestic stained-glass wall – were simply assembled according to the artist’s specs. And last September, when the Boston Center for the Arts hosted “Work No. 227: The Lights Going On and Off” by Scottish artist Martin Creed, in which the gallery’s 67 track lights illuminated the white walls and then flicked off every five seconds, not only did Creed not set up the exhibition, he didn’t even fly to Boston while it was up.

As contemporary art becomes more mainstream, and successful artists become “brands” that draw huge sale prices and big museum crowds, legions of art viewers are now finding themselves confronting “original” works created by someone other than the person listed on the wall label.

What qualifies such artwork as original, and whether it should matter whether the artist physically created the work, is a debate that has occupied academic corners of the art world for years. But if museumgoers believe – reasonably – that the point of seeing original art is to connect intimately with the artist who crafted the piece before them, they are opening themselves up to a rude surprise. In a contemporary art museum, it’s now fair to expect that chunks of a collection were never touched by the artist at all.

Geoff Edgers
Boston Globe

Tomorrow: Part 2 from Edgers’ excellent article.