At the Met: Nature Now (Dan Graham’s Glass Garden) and Then (Pre-Raphaelite Arts and Crafts)

The Metropolitan Museum of Art:

Dan Graham, with Gunther Vogt: Hedge Two-Way Mirror Walkabout; through 11/6.

The Pre-Raphaelite Legacy:  British Art and Design; through 10/26.

With the dog days upon us in the Emerald City, two displays lingering at the Met at opposite ends of the aesthetic spectrum are both steeped in nature, real and symbolic, more or less respectively.

First: More mirrors (see posts, 7/29; 8/10) in Graham’s greening of The Met’s stony roof garden in a Photoshop-turned-3-D-like blend of the organic, the synthetic, the city and fort/da self-reflections, with the assistance of a landscape architect.

I remember experiencing Graham’s spiral-in-a-square, mirrored glass pavilion on the roof of the old Dia Art Foundation building in Chelsea (installed 1991; building closed 2004) around the same time I was introduced to Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenological theory of spatialized vision. All fit into staggered, cubistic place as I gazed at a reduplicated, hovering metropolis in a shifting Cezanne sky dotted with flickers of my body. It’s interesting how little and much has changed in Graham’s work in the interim (in this comparison) —similar in some ways to Richard Serra’s work over several  decades. Like Serra, Graham has been interested in pushing the inherent properties of his preferred, unwieldy medium by twerking and torquing to destabilize the there there in large-scale installations. graham_mma3

Here, living ivy has been cultivated over a wire frame to form a hedge around the manipulated, transparently reflective, giant mirrored sheets—a fun-house maze on an astro-turf-uniform lawn.graham_mma6

Once rounding the bend, one’s self enters the hide-seek sight lines as camouflaged döppelgangers. What at first seemed redundant (by now) in concept and effect really grew (sorry) on me.graham_mma4

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In the Lehman Collection wing is a small survey, across mediums, of the backward-turned, British Pre-Raphaelites, who carefully, defensively, observed and represented nature at the onset of the modern capitalist-industrialist age (late 19th-century). The politics of this group was as confused as its collective sense of history, which romanticized an imagined Middle Ages, yet mimicked art ideals and flourishes that arose in the “fallen” Renaissance. (The entrenched Victorianism of its members and associates is nevertheless apparent in elements like the more-is-more ornamentation and the eroticization of languid women.)

The examples are exquisite.  Drawings by leading figure D. G. Rossetti of his real-life muses in complex iconographic personifications, fabric designs by William Morris, and cross-chronological legends in glaze-defined, detailed paintings by E. Burne-Jones, among other objects such as book illustrations, tapestries, ceramics, emphasize flora and filigree as fluidly unifying and symbolically replete motifs, enhancing knights-and-maidens/saints-and-sinners scenarios.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, "Jane Morris, Study for Marianna" (1868; drawing; collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art; image from the MMA Collections database, metmuseum.org)
Dante Gabriel Rossetti, “Jane Morris, Study for Mariana” (1868; drawing; collection Metropolitan Museum of Art; image: MMA Collections database, metmuseum.org)

Stylistic overlaps and distinctions between art of the Pre-Raphaelites and the historical forms and techniques they admired open out to many issues relevant to art theory, connoisseurship, and creative processes; and their productions demand up-close. Coming up on my Fall “Visual Aesthetics” class, good topic choice for Paper 1 assignment (arch alternative to Jeff Koons at the Whitney!).

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