Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Postcard from New York, 3: The Guggenheim

Frank Lloyd's Wright's Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum is undeniably an impressive and pleasurable building; however, it is distinctly perverse. In a city defined by the grid and buildings that are essentially stacked cubes the Guggenheim is all curves; it seems to contradict the characteristic horizontality of the Prairie Style with which Wright is most closely associated (though, aguably, it does extend his belief in 'organic' architecture); perhaps most of all it flouts the Modernist architectural ethos of 'form follows function' - how could it have seemed a good idea to construct a building for the display of painting and sculpture as a spiral ramp? 
The interior spaces are beautiful - the building is a sculpture in its own right; as an exhibition space it sort of works but is undeniably problematic.
Currently on show are 2 exhibitions of contemporary work: Storylines,  a selection from the museum's collection organised around the idea of storytelling, and a retrospective survey of Doris Salcedo. Both exhibitions were very interesting but, in my view, Salcedo knocks the socks off everything else. Additionally there is a display of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and early C20 work from the Thannhauser Collection.
Doris Salcedo's work is rooted in her response to the traumas and violence of political oppression particularly in relation to her native Columbia. However, what makes her work so powerful and effective is that its physical form universalises its meanings - that is, you don't need to know anything about Columbian politics to be touched by the poetic images and metaphors of a suffocating loss of liberty.
Doris Salcedo, installation view
Doris Salcedo, Atrabiliaros, 1996 (detail)
Doris Salcedo, Disremembered
Doris Salcedo, Plegaria Muda, 2008-10 (detail)
Where Salcedo's work is visually strong and admirably clear and direct in its emotional imapct, some of the work in Storylines, I felt, suffered from its dependence on (often obscure) references and the necessity for explanations in order to make any sense of the work. However, there is good work here. Below is my top five, in alphabetical order:
Shannon Ebner, Instrumentals, 2013

Iván Navarro, Homeless Lamp, the Juice Sucker, 2004–05

Gabriel Orozco, Astroturf Constellation, 2012

Katie Paterson, Light bulb to Simulate Moonlight, 2008

Natascha Sadr Haghighian, I can't work like this, 2007
Finally, a selection from the Thannhauser Collection:

Paul Cézanne, Still Life: Flask, Glass, and Jug, c1877

Édouard Manet, Before the Mirror, 1876

Pablo Picasso, Woman Ironing, Paris, 1904
(See also: Postcard from New York, 1: Whitney Museum of American Art (+ The High Line); Postcard from New York, 2: MoMA; Postcard from New York, 4: Dia: Beacon; click on the index label below to see all Postcards from New York)

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