Hyperactivity

Oh the places we will go. Oh the things we will see. Oh the realization that so much of our modern world is a mechanized reality. Inundated by objects of popular culture, we look to our screens—iPhone, tablet, and MacBook—for the newest fad.  Temporarily holding our attention by appealing to our sense of inclusion, the newest fad, a virtual reality comprised of manicured images of people and places, subsumes our physical reality. It takes a lived experience with inanimate objects to shock us into an activated reality in which we wonder, puzzle, and conjecture over the processes that bring about an artwork’s creation. The Whitney’s most recent exhibition, Calder: Hypermobility, catalyzes conversation about the things we are seeing—the mobiles, stabiles, and kinetic objects that defy our initial understanding.

Visitors circulate through the Whitney’s seventh floor, gradually nearing Calder’s creations, squatting to investigate up close the mechanics of a miniature mobile then backpedaling to gain a more complete perspective. The visitors dance, mimicking that of the mobiles. They give into the act of investigating an artwork and then retreat to ponder over the very process of its activation. After completing the single circuit—the analysis of one artwork—the visitor seamlessly repeats the preceding circuit, advancing to and backing away from the next object of his or her attention. Dancing in tandem, the visitors and artworks exalt the Calderian concept of unceasing motion. Filtering into the seventh floor stage, new visitors replace those exiting, thus maintaining the fluid equilibrium of the room.

While phone screens captured the unfolding rhythmic interplay of Calder’s creations, many visitors wholly entrusted analysis to their eyes, taking in the spectacle of each exhibited object. Affected by the idiosyncratic motions, visitors were drawn from their isolated mechanized realities to collectively appreciate the nuanced, choreographed motions. Sparsely decorated, Calder: Hypermobility, a platform for introspection, harnessed the performativity of Calder’s creations to subtly underscore the static nature of modern existence.

Untitled, 1947. Sheet metal, wire, and paint, 27 1/2 × 27 1/2 × 9 in. (69.9 × 69.9 × 22.9 cm). Calder Foundation, New York. © 2017 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Perceptive Touches

Prior to my collegiate art history studies, I held the misguided perception that all art must be aesthetically pleasing. I ardently believed that the conglomeration of colors must be evocative, that the sinuous line must remove all artifice, and that the primed canvas must hide its materiality. Art, I thought, was the perfection of humanity, the crystallization of human genius. It evidenced that man subsumed the state of nature. I clearly delineated between fine art and expressive human creation, deeming certain objects worthy of spectatorship and reverence, while others unsatisfactory, musing of humans rather than works of masters.

However, with increased exposure to modern and contemporary modes, I have come to deconstruct my subjective dichotomy. Subsequently, I have come to understand “art” as any form of human expression which appeals to the spectator’s senses, whether that be smell, touch, sight, hearing or taste. The later sense, taste, is the least applicable to the current discussion. Nevertheless, all of the aforementioned senses produce subjective opinions. Formulating unique human experiences, “art” employs known modes of experience to craft new environments of discovery.

Embracing the multifaceted portrayals of the senses, the Museum Tinguely in Basel, Switzerland presents ‘Priére de Toucher’ (The Touch of Art), the second installment of a five-pronged exhibition series that appeals to the spectator’s ream of senses. The diverse group of film, painting, sculpture, and performance art currently on display stimulates visceral reactions. Differing from a customary museum show, the Tingley’s exhibit rather than appealing to the spectator’s perception of visual beauty, directly confronts such spectator with conceptual, grotesque, and, at times, pornographic works.

One may certainly question the aesthetic appeal of such works presented; however, the communicative nature of the works displayed is undisputed. The spectator physically responds to the works, shielding his eyes, grasping his own extremities, quickening his pace, slowing to peer into or at tactically confusing creations, and even participating in interactive ball rooms and tree houses. While employing one’s eyes to comprehend such works, the spectator relies primarily on his sense of touch. Abstract representations of the physicality of existence, the handsome and grotesque creations flanking the Tingley’s walls reflect on the fungibility of flesh .

Enduring Ethereal Beauty

Humans have crafted artistic creations since the origins of mankind. During the prehistoric age, cavemen scratched archaic scenes of the hunt onto earthen walls; an early example of such can be seen on the cave walls at Lascaux. As mankind progressively evolved, methods of art making increased in number and in specialization. Artists flocked to the craft, and soon art became a profession, rather than a communicative necessity. In this long lineage of artists, how does a painter acquire international fame? What makes an artist an icon, or an embodiment of his times? One must consider whether a set of criteria that explains the fame of Botticelli, Michelangelo, Pollock, Koons, to name a sampling of acclaimed artists, can even be established. Take Van Gogh, contemporary viewers revere his work, but his canvases garnered appreciation only after his untimely passing. Therefore, should it be a prerequisite for such artist to achieve acclaim in his lifetime in order to be considered a true master of his time?

Considering these questions alongside a multitude of others, curators from the Gemäldegalerie organized the comprehensive exhibition, The Botticelli Renaissance. Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510), a Florentine Old Master painter, has inspired generations of subsequent artists who have embraced his ethereal Venus figures and beneficent virgins. A resurgence in all things Botticelli occurred again in the 18th century upon his rediscovery by the English Pre-Raphaelite painters. His iconic female nudes have inspired modern and contemporary interpretations by artists such as: Edgar Degas, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Andy Warhol, Cindy Sherman, among countless others.

Stressing the muse-like quality of Botticelli’s women, the exhibition traces interpretations of Botticelli’s works from the contemporary present backwards to his original 15th century panels. The audio guide, which traced back in time as the viewer traversed the gallery space, greatly facilitated the viewing experience; it  clearly and constantly reinforced the thematic thread woven through the decades. Viewing a myriad of interpretations—panting, drawing, sculpture, photography, video, and costume design—the viewer grasped the scope of Botticelli’s influence of current creators. Captivating the imagination of artists and encouraging adaptions that valorized the woman body, Botticelli gained a legacy that extends much beyond the 16 or so works officially attributed to his hand. Botticelli’s own iterations of this life-size Venus bookend the exhibition; first contemporary portraits flank Venus (1490) whereas in the final room, among the 50 panels widely attributed to Botticelli, the second Venus stoically stands. The timelessness of Botticelli’s Venus resonates. Still 500 years later, her contraposto form beckons, her eyes confidently engage with each onlooker, and her windblown blond locks reinforce the illusion of ease.

The collision of art, nature, and mankind

Be innovative, but restrained. Embrace boldness, but be conscious of the historical environment. Create a timeless landmark, but do so in hurried time frame. The lofty expectations set upon architects are inherently contradictory. Modern architects today are pushed to conceive a new generation of public works that owe homage to their storied predecessors, yet also experiment, setting the next architectural precedent with their innovation. The collective drive to integrate technology into all aspects of architecture has resulted in architectural marvels as well as public eyesores.

 

In a mixed urban environment, such as New York, both occurrences are equally prevalent. I followed the buzz about the new Whitney before arriving in the city. While the building has received mixed reviews, and I agree that the elevators and staircases were not constructed without flaw, I think favorably upon the new structure. The raw creativity of the new Whitney is an example of how architects can use technological advances to make public space accessible and interactive. Liberated, the Whitney has opened itself up to natural light, inviting the public to easily maneuver through its open galleries and traverse its multi-tiered balconies. It is on these balconies, on which culture and nature collide, that the viewer attains a sense of fulfillment. Renzo Piano, the chief architect of the revamped Whitney, designed an intellectually stimulating building that matches the daring nature of the museum’s contemporary and modern American art collection.