Friday, July 30, 2010

Lee Bontecou & Bruce Nauman @ MoMA through Aug. 23 & 30

Bontecou is an artist whose work caught my eye a few times while wandering through MOMA's permanent collection. I think I may have also seen her work in some other museums modern collections, but I can't remember where. Anyway, the work I saw, and that registered in my mind were the large, imposing canvas and metal wall sculptures that she is most known for. She made most of these pieces between 1959 and 1967. I liked them because they seem to fit into that late modernist school of painting that Frank Stella and Elizabeth Murray are part of, where the flatness of the canvas/picture plane literally morphs, and changes shape, so that the sheer physicality of the work causes it to subtly enter the realm of sculpture, but not quite. Unlike Stella and Murray though Bontecou's work seemed somewhat threatening, and ominous. Some look like giant mouths, or post apocalyptic vortexes. I'd only seen a few of her pieces though, and was intrigued to see what else she'd done.
I was more than a little disappointed to see that the whole show fit into one gallery. Apparently she moved to rural Pennsylvania in 1971, and the work she's made since hasn't gotten her much attention. There are a number of drawings and lithographs in the show that seem to be very surrealist or futurist inspired, at least in form. Some of the more interesting ones are made with the soot that was expelled from her blowtorch. But, those are really only interesting because the medium is so unusual. The drawings made from more conventional means are not so interesting, and look like studies for three dimensional work that's no where to be seen. In the middle of the gallery is a very dynamic spinning mobile that apparently she's been working on for 18 years. It's very beautiful, but I would have liked to have seen more of the big cavernous wall sculptures. Unfortunately there were only 2 in the show. I guess I was expecting more of a retrospective of sorts. Technically I suppose this is one, but I would have liked to have seen more work, and learned more about this artist. What I walked away with was that some 45 years ago she made some pretty arresting and important work, and everything since has been kind of a let down.

Bruce Nauman: Days, through Aug 23
This is a very impressive sound installation by one of Americas great living conceptual artists. As a rule I'm not a huge fan of conceptual art, but I am a fan of Nauman. It's kind of hard not to be. If you've ever seen his work, you remember it. This show consists of about a dozen thin white square speakers suspended by wire cables that reach from the floor to the ceiling. Coming out of the speakers are the recorded voices of children and adults reciting the days of the week on a loop. Some of the voices are men, and some are women. Some are old, and some young. Some recite the days in the correct order, and some don't. The speakers face one another from about 12 or 15 feet away, creating a path that the visitor is encouraged to walk through. There's also plenty of room to walk around or behind them. Nothing's hidden, or disguised as anything it isn't. Like most of Naumans work I don't know what the hell it's about, but it's a very elegant and hypnotic installation. If you get a chance you should get your ass over there. Good stuff!

1 comment:

  1. Matt, I though Bontecou had more of surrealist sensibilities than a futurist. Although the Galaxy piece was a little futuristic. You are right the show was small but it was really quality work. I am impressed on how it holds up over time. I also found out that there was retrospective of her work in 2004 in MoMA Queens.

    The Bruce Nauman's exhibit was real treat. I alway surprised how something so minimal could be so mesmerizing. You should have mentioned that this piece was from the Venice Biennial. No one should miss it.