Tag Archives: Rubin Museum

world wide works of resistance

“Clapping with Stones: Art and Acts of Resistance” at the Rubin Museum (17th Street); through January 6, 2020.

As a post-millennium museum (opened 2004), The Rubin well represents the global age by linking past and present in its programming; namely, between its core holdings of historical art from Southeast Asia and and contemporary work that bears witness to the constantly shifting national and cultural borders, diasporas, and self-identities traced to the region–and even alliances and overlaps with disparate communities beyond this constellation, real and insinuated. This shows exemplifies all of that, taking up the theme of resistance (as per the title)—to oppression, to sectarianism, to homogeneity through diverse presentations of protest, rapprochement and healing, with violence prescient and hovering.  The ten artists included each make a distinct impression and collectively offer a multitudes of mediums and techniques.       

Located on the top floor (six) of this mini-Guggenheim, the dome above the central spiral stair is elaborated with a striking site-specific installation by Kimsooja of magenta-colored, lotus-shaped globe lamps, accompanied by a soundtrack blending Buddhist, Christian and Islamic chants.  (It’s amazing that this mandala-apropos architectural feature was left over from its original position in a department store.)  The show’s title is taken from Lida Abdul’s mesmerizing video (2005) on the destruction of giant sixth-century stone Buddhas in Afghanistan by the Taliban (2001) through local ritual, which takes on new relevance since the high-tech projection project of the destroyed statues on site by Chinese filmmakers Janson Yu and Liyan Hu (2015; intermittently repeated).      

Among the more poetic works, a suite of architectural ceramics by Shahpour Pouyan signifying on various architectural forms associated with aspects of his hybrid ethnic and national heritage; and a moving Abstract Expressionist-mode triptych-altarpiece by Nadia Kaabe-Linke, monochrome, smoky, and “scarred”—in fact incorporating tracings of bullet holes from a Nazi bunker.  At the opposite end of aesthetics, a strong documentary video on immigrant activism in Barcelona by Kader Attia aka the artist who created a spectacular couscous replica of the ancient Algerian town of Ghardaia in an installation exposing the unacknowledged inspirations of Le Corbusier (2009, Tate; seen in NYC at the Guggenheim in 2016).

Nari Ward contributes a now characteristic shoe-lace wall piece spelling out, “We Shall Overcome”; and a bricolage-type installation linking Africa to Harlem in a “living room” of discarded objects surveilled from above with a fish-eye mirror.  A large-scale seemingly faded photographic appropriation of a Civil Rights march by Hank Willis Thomas (see Thomas) takes on a kind of 3-D focus when viewed (as instructed) with a cell phone flashlight, alluding to the tricks of the journalistic trade and positive populism in the art gallery; while one of his steely, 3-D printed-looking sculptures deals with police brutality through synecdoche (cropped hands and baton).  Literal violence is broached with Ibrahim Quraishi‘s exploded violin piece (somewhat akin to Nouveau Realiste Arman’s smashed musical instrument) accompanied by a soundtrack of the destruction.

Detail of Hank Willis Thomas, “The March” (2017; UV print on retroreflective vinyl) at the Rubin Museum (one of several effects depending on lighting)

Fiercely feminist works by Nazia Khan include Mad Max / Game of thrones empty female armor and a watercolor homage to Indian female resistance fighter Rani of Jhansi; while Pallavi Paul’s tangled trail of heavily redacted paper points to the hidden fate of a WWII-era Indian female operative for Britain. Go through once just for the riot of textured, complex forms; and then again reading the backstories.

Syncretism–Sci-Fi tech vs. Surrealist touch in Murakami and Clemente Shows

Takashi Murakami: “In the Land of the Dead: Stepping on the Tail of the Rainbow”; Gagosian, 24th Street

Francesco Clemente: “Two Tents”; Mary Boone, 24th Street

Also: “Francesco Clement: Inspired by India”; Rubin Museum

Murakami, directing his Kaikai factory, has pushed further his  superflat painted visions into a Baudrillard-like pressing of digitally-aware and aided (in various ways) plasticized layered patterns, forms and textures–with, however, the underpinnings of the artist’s early anime subjects, graphic personality and symbology (e.g., the D.O.B. character and derivatives; flowers; skulls).  The popping results evoke blow-up ukiyo-e (floating world pictures) for the atomic age–a proliferation of swelling skulls overtaking mountainous lands and roiling seas along with fantastical flora and fauna.  The center piece of the show is a site-constructed, faux-weathered Shinto-like shrine through which viewers may pass into the apocalyptic, sci-fi samurai surrounds. Lording over the proceedings are colossal, space-age kongorikishi (Buddhist guardian statuary) in color-bleeding, high-finish resins. Among a few chrome-cast hybrid beings scattered about is a silver self-portrait (complete with the artist’s signature John Lennon glasses) as futuristic Bodhisattva, a beacon of hi-tech artistic authenticity to mediate industrial-strength, pending doom amidst lingering spirituality and still somehow joyful, preening display.

Takashi Murakami at Gagosian, 24th St. (11/15/14)
Takashi Murakami at Gagosian, 24th St. (11/15/14)

Takashi Murakami, Gagosian 24th St. (11/15/14)
Takashi Murakami, Gagosian 24th St. (11/15/14)

A funky mirror-beast to rival Koons's balloon dogs; Murakami at Gagosian 24th St (11/15/14)
A funky mirror-beast to rival Koons’s balloon dogs; Murakami at Gagosian 24th St (11/15/14)

Syncretism is also a long-standing iconographic modus operandi for Francesco Clemente, continued in his “two tents,” (literally) juxtaposed as “angel” and “devil” abodes, here.  Suggesting both nomadic dwellings and carnival set-ups, the make-shift structures are comprised of fabrics printed and painted with his also characteristic Indian-inspired figuration and palette.   The interiors are adorned with enigmatic, symbol-laden narratives. One features Hindu-deity-derived, eroticized nudes, languid and surreal; the other, cartoony, top-hatted “confidence” men and more lustily naked women that suggest capitalistic trickery and hegemony (one figure has a distended globe-belly). Clemente’s autonomous-seeming, hands-hewn inscrutability here and generally is a refreshingly anathema to Murakami’s obsessively controlled, always expanding enterprise, the results of which are as impressively energetic as ever in the current show, not least in terms of formal invention.  Both artists mash up diverse cultural remnants orbiting around their respective haunting dream worlds.

More Clemente: It’s always cool to visit the Rubin Museum, ever creative with its contemporary diasporaic, as well as localized, historical, and traditional, South East Asian presentations and programming. A small sampling of Clemente’s work in India over several decades (1980s into the new millennium) is not quite comprehensive enough to get a handle on either his specific inspirations, trajectory, or core aesthetic messages, however, is interesting in tandem with the compelling Boone installation.  It’s a nice change in gallery context from the commercial scene of the early aughts when some of this work was debuted in New York alongside noisier “transavantguardia/neo-expressionist” painting; note especially some tiny, amber-toned, blotted watercolors of sexually engaged bodies, dual-purposed as intimate erotic imagery and records of Hindu temple carvings.

Medicinal Mandalas at the Rubin Museum

In the ten years of its existence, The Rubin Museum (W. 17th Street), which focuses on Southeast Asian art (especially Tibetan Buddhist), has achieved a nice balance of aesthetic and scholarly approaches and ambiance re: its exhibitions and installations. Featured objects and images—especially the ancient and ongoing traditional painting and sculpture, but also including some modern and contemporary work—have generally been highly engaging and evocative on formal and subjectively symbolic terms; however, the extreme difference in context (i.e., circumstances of creation; intent) requires some exegesis to address oversimplification, as well as exoticization, for a primarily Western audience–usually provided in accessible terms via supplemental display (wall texts/labels, electronic resources).

The building itself, with a large central spiral staircase, infuses a spiritual dimension into the proceedings within, furthered (typically, so far) by a variety of backdrop gallery colors that destabilize the white-box Western display protocol.

Diversion: the Rubin has laudably developed its educational programming, crucial, in terms of the complexity of its cultural emphasis, and following a trend in mainstream museums nationally. However, we are at a “tipping point” with regard to the number of gadgets and guides at the ready to interpret and explain and lead visitors around museums – here as elsewhere. The trend mimics the Pandora’s box of problematics in the age of virtual reality for art and museums.

The very idea of Tibet (and to a lesser extent, other regions of the Himalayas) is, of course, highly political, which simmers as an energetic undercurrent of the goings-on at the Rubin.  Equally interesting are non-sequitur musical and other events that periodically, along with those directly connected to its mission, show up in the museum’s extensive extra-curricula programming.  If you’ve never been to the Rubin, don’t admit it and do it the very next time you’re in (lower) Chelsea. The ground floor (semi-permanent) exhibit strikes the proverbial right notes as a brief primer on basic Buddhist and (preceding) Hindu iconography for the uninitiated and a review for others destined mainly for the special exhibitions, and includes illustrative impressive examples (I almost said “high quality” — but that phrase is a bit too loaded without parameter-defining discourse).

This posting was inspired by a visit to the summer show, “Bodies in Balance: The Art of Tibetan Medicine” (through 9/8/14) — not unexpectedly, highly recommended.  Seen one intricate South Asian hanging Buddhist mandala painting (c.16th – 20th c.) seen them all (for those other than specialists in related fields)?  Hardly; if you slow down and look at the imaginative, body-oriented cosmic diagrams (painted sheets and scrolls, as well as intricate wood and metal sculpture) on view here, along with slightly (though not much) more straightforward anatomical chart-like drawings created around the same time as anatomical studies coming out of the Renaissance West, in a very different vein (sorry).