I came across this sculpture in the New Museum in New York and snapped a photo before the guard busted me. The Martin Boyce piece, entitled We Climb Inside and Everything Else Disappears, is typical of the many works on display at this new Museum in the Bowery. The current show, Unmonumentals, features numerous ready-made pieces in many media from largely unknown artists. Art is off the pedestal, down on the floor. The show is lively and fun and accessible (take the kids). The New Museum was designed by Sanaa architects Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa. Mention their names to the architecture crowd and you will hear back “they’re in line for the next Pritzker”. This is speculative of course, but the building is for real: five floors of relaxed, modern, informal spaces. This is the people’s museum and appropriately sited in the developing Bowery neighborhood. Edwin Heathcote of the Financial Times wrote an excellent review of the building this Saturday entitled The Ascent of Manhattan.
The Unmonumentals hose piece reminded me of a profoundly unmonumental still life I spotted at a car wash in Santa Barbara last year. There was an aqua swirling snake of a hose set in motion by the solid, fixed plumbing of a gas meter. Had the gas meter been grey I would not have noticed it. But red is a territorial color and often demands our attention, directing us to things like lips and stop signs, rarely to gas meters.. A suite of contrasts also pulls you in to this composition: aging pipes against new ones, straight lines against curves, rigid against plastic, organic versus inert, and more. The character of the composition transcends the prosaic objects themselves, which must be why I noticed it. Now, after seeing Boyce’s work, maybe I should entitle it something like Stop to Fill Up and Something Will Come into Focus.
I’m consistently drawn to ‘hose’ compositions precisely because they need no institutional ratification. They occur naturally all over the world – beautiful; satisfying; heedless of title or museum status. Click here for examples. Why am I drawn to these “unmonumental” compositions? Basic material honesty must be at the heart of it. They are better than art in some ways because no one is telling us the correct way to appreciate them. It’s like finding a good piece of junk at a flea market or experiencing a chance encounter. There are no price tags or red dots, no elitist rules. Just fluid, colorful modern forms set off by the mundane objects and structures that define our urban landscapes.But the fact is that I am perpetually drawn to “hose” compositions precisely because they need neither titles nor museum status to be appreciated, and they can be found all over the globe. Click here for examples. Why am I drawn to these “unmonumental” compositions? Basic material honesty must be at the heart of it. They are better than art is some ways because no one is telling us the correct way to appreciate them. It’s like finding a good piece of junk at a flea market or experiencing a chance encounter. There are no price tags or red dots, no elitist rules. Just fluid, colorful modern forms set off by the mundane objects and structures that define our urban landscapes.
Shadow Monsters in MoMA
Another great show just opened uptown in New York at MoMA. Curator Paola Antonelli has put together a show called Design and The Elastic Mind. The review last week in the New York Times by Nicolai Ouorousoff was insightful and accurate: “Design and the Elastic Mind is the most uplifting show MoMA’s architecture and design department has presented since the museum reopened in 2004. Thanks to its imaginative breadth, we can begin to dream again.” His full review is worth reading. In contrast to Unmonumentals at the New Museum, this show asks us to contemplate technology and design and their effect on culture and asks how design may be defined in the future. The show is a cross between a science and art exhibition, and a refreshing alternative to the mid-century modern design studies that are the foundation of the museum’s collection. About a quarter of the works in the show are kinetic and/or interactive like this playful Shadow Monsters. The show is almost exhausting in its reach: street fixtures that provide shade by day and light by night, robotic fish, a honeycomb vase made by bees, tennis shoes that generate power for lamps and a lot more. If you can't make it to the show (which is up until May 24), get the catalog from their book store.
And now for the most unmonumental work: I shot one of these urinal stills in the New Museum and the other in MoMA. See if your elastic mind can determine which urinals grace which museum.
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