Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Final Days for the Flowers; Go for a Ride in the English Countryside

New year, new creativity, right? Best to stoke the creative fires with a good museum jaunt. First outing of 2019: a trip to to the Toledo Museum of Art to find out whether Rebecca Louise Law's "Community" exhibit is as magical as all that ("It was magic?" asked my 3 1/2 year old. Well, no, not technically). It definitely falls in the category of more than the sum of its parts and good lord, it had a TON of parts. An attendant opens the frosted door as you draw near, so you glimpse the room only at its threshold. Hundreds (thousands?) of dangling garlands of local flora create pathways within the bare white gallery space. The flowers themselves (or seedpods, wheat stalks, berries etc.) were strung by kind, creating areas of suspended color, swaying ever-so-slightly. The beauty/sweetness is balanced by the dried/decaying aspect, though any decay falls into the faded/desiccated variety. I was too late to catch the "fresh" part of the fresh and floral exhibit (it went up in June 2018) -- I imagine it was initially verdant, lush -- but the delicately dried curtains were still rich. 


First reaction: quiet delight. I wandered about, grinning like a fool -- and making vain attempts to capture the wonder with mediocre picture taking. Second reaction? "How LONG DID THIS TAKE??" Even the more masochistic artist types would lose it before stringing a third of the room's garlands. And this, naturally, was the community aspect of the installation, which I failed to grasp until I watched the artist conversation video back home: Law invites local volunteers to participate in garland creation, so that her vision is collectively brought into reality. Back in the exhibit, you can see everyone else shuffling through, craning their necks upward, partially obscuring themselves for floral portraits. On this Friday, the audience is overwhelmingly female, barring a couple seeming boyfriends. A couple women tick off Latin plant names to each other; a handful of older women joke about their rowdiness (minimal); a young man and woman in matching blue "Dunder Mifflin" tee shirts come off as generally embarrassed. At the same time I lose my will to wander,  the gallery room strikes me as newly small. My picture taking isn't going to improve, and I'm not suddenly going to possess a deeper knowledge of flora and fauna. Do I feel more connected? Not so much to the community, possibly to the moment, or at least the day overall -- the freedom of being able to wander without hurrying to chase a child.  

"You're just so tickled!" says the woman at the door.  She extends her hand toward the door handle.

"Oh, it's delightful."  She asks if I'm related to someone who works there. No, I say, but it's a lovely place. Is she a volunteer, or staff?

She leans in conspiratorially: "I'm security. I'm the one whose supposed to break your bones if you get out of line!" As Rick often says of me: she fails to intimidate.

"...Wellll, I'll try to be good."

"Yeah," she says gruffly, "Tone it down."

--> This exhibit closes January 13th.

Next up is a short walk to the "Sights & Sounds" exhibit in the newly renovated contemporary art gallery. I am rarely drawn to, or have the patience for, extended video pieces, so I'm surprised to immediately get sucked into David Hockney's "Woldgate Woods, Winter 2010," a nine screen video showing an English road and woods from his childhood. It's 52 minutes long, silent, and hypnotic. The screens are displayed in a tight 3 x 3 square; and everything almost-but-not-quite lines up. Despite the deliberate jarring, and the ongoing driving forward of the camera/car,  it remains calm. 

The tire tracks ahead are deep, the tree branches and underbrush are all coated thickly with snow. It looks cold, but feels cozy with the trees on both sides. The sky lightens. A car pulls ahead, on our right, and travels far down the road, before mysteriously stopping. To what end? Eventually they pull away and dwindle to a dot. Birds dart in and out of frame. It's like front porch neighbor-gazing, without the pleasantries; fireside snoozing, barring the crackle and snap. 

Suddenly, the trees open up the left: And now! Such a feeling of freedom and space! And then, someone walks toward us. Obviously we don't know him, but will he interact somehow? But no, he tucks his head down, hands pocketed, and passes to the right. Second piece at the museum, second time being mesmerized,  contented. A voice inside me sneers: "Are you just predisposed to LOVE everything today?" in the tone usually reserved for "WHAT IS *WRONG* WITH YOU?" Maybe so, maybe not. Maybe I'm more open than I tend to be, but it's also a strong opening exhibit for this refurbished gallery. Artist-takes-on-nature is a classic, and as a classic, is in danger of falling into the trite. I haven't thought deeply enough to comment on the cohesiveness of the exhibit, but I will say the artist roster is impressive, as are the number of appealing, engaging pieces. 

From the Woldgate Woods, one also hears the ocean, and possibly sitar music.* Takashi Ishida's fantastic "Wall of the Sea" is responsible for the ocean's intrusion into the British countryside. Three screens, three identical white rooms. A projector in the middle shows a seascape on the far wall, which quickly overflows its smaller screen and pools out across the floor. Each room is rapidly consumed by different depictions of water -- calligraphic ink swirls in one, broad watercolor splashes, white paint on black surface; each screen is overtaken, before all recedes, the space is new again, then overtaken. Photographic footage of the sea is grey, grainy, blurry vs. the rich blue pigments used by Ishida. I love the whole experience of it, without fathoming intended messages.

Other favorites: "Frank," by Robert Longo (ESPECIALLY his process, haha!), Kiki Smith's "Seated Nude"** (clearly not a child's figure, but the overly large head is still so endearing to me. Creepy, but endearing), the elegance of Maya Lin ("Dew Point 18," "Silver Erie"), Jonathon Borofsky's business men screenprints ("2740475"), "Mount Rainier, from The United States" (gorgeous woodblock print from 1925, by Hiroshi Yoshida).

Definitely worth a trip. This exhibit is up through February 24, 2019. 

*Nope. Just a guitar. But very plinky!
**this leads me to a SUBfavorite, particular to all the 3D works: the overly large ALL CAPS

Signs. Hard to not imagine the total aggravation behind it. ...For the love of God, you're in a museum, people!! WHY MUST WE ALWAYS STATE THIS. People, people, people.

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