This smart and thoughtful show, organized by curator Claire Schneider for the Ackland Museum of Art, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, addresses some unexpected themes in recent art. Although well-steeped in the international conceptualism of the past several decades, with its emphasis on clever ideas, intellectualism, self-referentialism, and, at times, cynicism, Schneider has instead chosen to include works that focus on participation, equality of dialogue, idealism, and sincerity.
Reaching back to master contemporary artists still making art in the final decades of their lives, such as French-American artist Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010), she has also included relatively obscure young practitioners like American artist Sarah Gotowka (b. 1984) and Mexican artist Antonio Vega Macotela (b.1980). The resulting exhibition, installed throughout the upstairs galleries at the Cheekwood Museum of Art and on view until January 5, 2014, is a mixture of typology and intention.
Many works in the exhibition are simple objects that open to layers of meaning the more one spends time in their presence, as in the iconic Untitled (Ross in L.A.), 1991, by American artist Felix Gonzales-Torres (1958-1996), and Love (2000) by Louise Bourgeois. Others offer compelling narratives captured in real time, such as Palestinian artist Mona Hatoum’s 1988 film and audio recordings of conversations with her mother living in Lebanon; Antonio Vega Macotela’s exchange of his time on the outside with drawings made in those same exact moments by his partner-prisoners on the inside in Time Divisa (2006-2011); and the allure of global human connection one feels when participating in Yoko Ono’s Time to Tell Your Love (2012). While they support the exhibition’s core thesis of politics and sharing, several of the other installations struck me as so purpose-driven in intention, message, or theoretical underpinnings that their value as art objects was diminished.
In addition to experiencing Gonzales-Torres’s 175-pound (referencing the ideal weight of his partner Ross, who ultimately died of AIDS) cascading pyramid of brightly wrapped candy spilling onto the floor in one corner of the gallery, among the nicest surprises in the exhibition is a sculpture entitled Love, 2000, by Bourgeois. This inverted stack of square red pillow or mattress-like forms rises to the height of a tall human from a small square steel base. Crimson against the white gallery walls, it commands our attention. Balancing on the smallest form, its curvaceous outline follows the bulges of each pillow, recalling a single standing figure but also readable as a record of life experiences in the way tree rings represent years gone by.
Other standouts include works by American artists Jim Hodges (b. 1957), Dario Robleto (b. 1972), and Sarah Gotowka. Hodges’s tattoo-like saliva and ink drawing is electric with the human touch as are Robleto’s beautifully crafted assemblages of aptly-chosen materials, such as Shredded Love Letters, preserved like a drug in a bottle of clear capsules, and an anti-war shadow box entitled Defiant Gardens, a funerary arrangement made from found objects and historic nineteenth and twentieth century war letters. Gotowka’s pair of extra-long knitted sleeves patterned with computer-generated emoticons are a dual reference to the coldness of long-distance communication. In stark contrast to pieces so compellingly personal, handmade, and emotionally poignant, other works chosen by Schneider embody the dilemma of intimacy across time and space. Their aesthetics of cool remove, harsh or indifferent vocalization and body language, and the familiar striations of electronically-generated images add to feelings of disconnect often in contrast with the sentiments of love, caring, or sharing they purport to express, leaving viewers in a state of wariness that is unsettling at best, and feeling prone to calculation or trickery at worst.
More Love, 2010, Tracey Emin (b. 1963), neon, anonymous loan, courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin Gallery, New York and Hong Kong.
“Untitled” (Portrait of Ross in L.A.), 1991, Felix Gonzalez-Torres (1958-1996), Fruit Flasher Candy, ideal weight 175 pounds, The Art Institute of Chicago, promised gift of Donna and Howard Stone, Courtesy of Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York.
Love, 2000, Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010), red fabric and stainless steel, courtesy Cheim & Read and Hauser & Wirth
“Signs that say what you want them to say and not Signs that say what someone else wants you to say: I’m Desperate,” 1992-93, Gillian Wearing (b. 1963), c-type print mounted on aluminum, courtesy Maureen Paley, London.
IF YOU GO
“More Love: Art, Politics, and Sharing since the 1990s,” September 20, 2013-January 5, 2014 at Cheekwood Museum of Art, 1200 Forrest Park Drive. The museum is open
Tuesday through Saturday 9:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.; Sunday 11:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Admission is $12 for adults, seniors $10 and children 3-17 are $5. Parking is $3 per car. Admission during Bruce Munro LIGHT Nights will be $15 for adults, $12 for seniors, $8 for children 3-17, and $5 for Cheekwood members. For further information call 615-356-8000 or click here.