I was in St. Louis this past week, and saw a great photography exhibit at the St. Louis Museum of Art. The exhibit, an Orchestrated Vision, is a collection of large scale contemporary photography playing with ideas of performance and reality, its subtitle is "The Theater of Contemporary Photography." If you're in St. Louis, you should check it out. Except for a notable absence of Cindy Sherman in the section about the artist as subject (that must have been too obvious if I noticed it, and she's currently got a retrospective at MoMA, so probably all tied up there), I thought it was a great exhibit.
I just have an issue with curator speak when it comes to contemporary art of any kind. I get it. I've taken performance theory seminars. Like, a lot of them. And perhaps why it bothers me that there is this intermediary in most contemporary art that evades the informative to err on the side of the pedantic or possibly the condescending. Most of it I feel is obvious. Some is reaching. Some feels like its justifying its existence. Some feels like its justifying why you should be interested. Any of these options feel like they don't leave a lot of room for whatever my reaction might be. It's probably petty. I'm at a point now where some of it makes me laugh. It feels like some of the attempts at meaning are so far reaching that anything could be curated. I don't even mean to denigrate criticism - I read it, I enjoy it - it's illuminating.
So, since I know this is my issue, and I in no way intend to denigrate the hard work of the curator in assembling the show, I offer my own curated show below of photos I took in the lobby. Once again, this is just meant for a laugh, if you find this kind of thing funny. Rarified, probably, but it cracked me up to write it. I hope you enjoy.
And, if the curator of the show above is reading this, it's nothing personal. I liked the show a lot. . Critical language just cracks me up.
In this photograph, “Nobles 1”, the artist uses visual metaphor and machine to displace our feelings of the familiar, placing mundane objects otherwise ignored in the center of the frame. The feeling is further enhanced by a patron walking away from the object at the center of the frame, herself just as easily passed by as the floor polisher. The rail bisects the image further, asking us to consider the possibility of binaries and divisions. Without question, the play on the term “noble” intends to confuse our sense of the exalted as well. The scaffolding further enhances the sense of isolation.
In “Nobles 2”, the artist changes the point of view to bring the mundane floor polisher to an almost comical sense of prominence in the frame. The tension between object and art is further amplified by the sculpture in the far background, making us question our own acceptance of what is considered art. Were the components of the floor polisher at one time just as sculpted as the two figures that would, in real scale, dwarf it? The watery reflection mirrors the oceanic gulf between objects, emphasizing the barren field of polished stone and the rail around that field, which further enhance the sense of isolation and ironic distance.
In “White panel/Dressing Screen” the artist whimsically calls into question our acceptance of art and object, a theme in his work. The white panel, calling to mind the work of Kazimir Malevich, is a refiguring of a wall used for possible future display into a piece of art itself. The panel next to it, used to hide the construction from the museum-goer, calls to mind elaborate Asian privacy screens, on display in a nearby gallery. The sense of menacing sexuality is palpable. Immediately the viewer begins to question what is being hidden. The off-kilter framing further increases the sense of isolation.
n “UNtitled, V1.6”, the artist explores the seemingly random tourist photo, but displacing our expectation by odd framing and subject choice. The words “smallest” and “subject” are blown out and large to the point of almost illegibility, heightening the intention of dramatizing the mundane. Further layering the image are the books of other celebrated photographers, asking us to reëxamine our relation to their work in illuminating the “smallest subject”. The overhead lighting further enhances the sense of isolation.
In “Scaffold, Grill, Fire Alarm”, the artist obfuscates our expectation of a clear view framed in the arch. The use of construction material scaffolding is once again an object lesson, frustrating our clear view of what is beyond the immediate. The ordered organization of the duct grill above is mirrored and enlarged by the scaffolding; a stand-in for the multitude of ways clarity is frustrated by everyday objects. By calling out the fire alarm in the title, the artist further rattles our security, increasing the feeling of isolation and emergency.
In “Better Burger”, the artist continues his interest in gridwork began with “Scaffold, Grill, Fire Alarm”. The pieces of discarded clothing and to-go cup suggest a recently departed worker, but there is no one in sight. The apparatus in the background is unplugged and unused. The fine metalwork in the scaffold is mirrored in the floor, bring a sense of infinity, fatigue, and unending labor. The empty cup and discarded paper towel serve to increase our sense of isolation and disconnectedness.
In “Apotheosis of St. Louis”, the artist once again plays with the idea of tourist photo as begun in “UNtitled, V1.6”. In this instance, instead of photographing the Apotheosis of St. Louis, the majestic sculpture which stands outside the museum, the artist has chosen to photograph the small toy for sale in the museum gift shop. The artist suggests the obvious irony that the Apotheosis of St. Louis was not his fairness and ability as a ruler and only canonized King of France, but rather being a toy for sale in a gift shop. Emphasizing the reductive nature of commerce; the horse charging futilely into a styrofoam wall only heightens our sense of weltschmerz and isolation.
In “Corporate Partners Program” the artist whimsically juxtaposes Rodin’s figure of a man against the panel of museum donors. The gaunt figure is asking the viewer to join, while emphasizing the corporate nature of the enterprise. As in other work, the artist is re-contextualizing the work of other artists to reframe the objects themselves. Both the corporate donor panel and the work by Rodin take on new meaning when viewed from this angle. The marble plinth only increases the sense of isolation.