Sunday, November 4, 2012

More on "In the Holocene"

One of the amazing things about living so close to MIT is that we can just walk out of our house and stroll around the campus. They have a wonderful collection of monumental sculptures that have caught my attention recently as I work on thinking more in three dimensions.

One of the best is a large work by Alexander Calder. 

<a href="" title="Cool Alexander Calder by Plant Design Online, on Flickr"><img src="" width="375" height="500" alt="Cool Alexander Calder"></a>A different view from every angle, it is even more dramatic from the inside. 

<a href="" title="Before the Hurricane by Plant Design Online, on Flickr"><img src="" width="375" height="500" alt="Before the Hurricane"></a>

A smaller model in the lobby of the List Center shows that Calder was still working through problems of form and engagement before the final construction. For example, the openings to the outside, which are such an appealing part of the monument, are lacking in the smaller model. The finished sculpture is, in my opinion, a masterpiece. What strikes me the most about it is that you are engaged with the sculpture as a viewer. You get inside it while it enters you with its wit, its life, and its aesthetic. How does this relate to the interesting, challenging, and provocative exhibit at the List Center?

<a href="" title="Contrasts by Plant Design Online, on Flickr"><img src="" width="375" height="500" alt="Contrasts"></a>

The curator, João Ribas, proposes that art is a "speculative science" that "acts as an investigative and experimental form of inquiry..." Somewhere on these pages I know I've written the same thing, but not as well articulated as in Ribas' introduction to the exhibit.

Ribas put together a sensational collection of work that challenges the line between science and art. Like the Calder sculpture, the work suggests the struggle of artists trying to depict scientific concepts through their process. As an observer I found myself struggling as well. Not with the question of art/science connections, but with trying to figure out how some of the pieces in the show connected to the question. 

I left with a sense of exhilaration but also frustration, as though all the thinking had already been done for me. The overall impression was that the exhibit was cold and not particularly engaging, which I think is not what the curator had in mind. 

There are many memorable pieces at the exhibit. One of them is a video of John Baldessari singing the Sol Lewitt's canonical Sentences on Conceptual Art. It occurred to me how many of these sentences relate to questions I've been posing about the art/science connection. Wouldn't it have been wonderful to have the opportunity to engage the sentences with this question by using the video as a touchstone? What I'm thinking is this: Why not have the focus of the exhibit as the Lewitt Sentences, and ask viewers to seek connections between science and art through observing the various pieces in the show? 

<a href="" title="Lewitt Partial Cubes by Plant Design Online, on Flickr"><img src="" width="500" height="375" alt="Lewitt Partial Cubes"></a>

This might have proven a challenge to viewers, but I think it would have been a positive one.

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