I thoroughly enjoyed visiting the Guggenheim’s Artistic License exhibition and seeing the various pieces each artist curated from the museum’s permanent collection. Each floor of the exhibition felt like a new adventure, with a different story to discover.
Initially, from the reading prior to visiting the museum, I gravitated toward Paul Chan’s interest in “renewal” in his exhibition, “Sex, Water, Salvation or What is a Bather?” While I found his inclusion of various forms of art to be interesting, I was not completely floored by the way in which he presented his choices. There seemed to be an inconsistency in the transition from one work to the other. The placement of most of the works next to each other felt awkward. It felt incomplete to me, with the only the blue carpet, and the general overuse of the color blue, tying his choices together. It felt forced, which left me wondering if he could have been subtler and less obvious in his approach. It was interesting to see certain works though. I really liked Ernest Ludwig Kirchner’s Three Nudes in Water, (1911), and Piet Mondrian’s Summer, Dune in Zeeland, (1910) because it was interesting to see the lesser known works of these artists and the beginnings of their artistic styles for which they are renowned.
The artist whose exhibition moved me the most was Julie Mehretu’s “Cry Gold and See Black” which examines her artistic response to postwar issues, trauma, and dehumanization. This exhibition was shocking in terms of color palette, scale of works, and overall subject matter. I feel as though Mehretu’s curatorial efforts were the most successful in terms of cohesion. While Chan’s choices were more obviously placed together, Mehretu’s choices were slightly more challenging to piece together, which made me think more closely about the message she was trying to communicate. I liked how the works were different, but in conversation with each other. For example, David Hammon’s Close Your Eyes and See Black, (1969), juxtaposed with Francis Bacon’s Three Studies for a Crucifixion, (1962), was captivating. They both share a distortion of figures and curvilinear forms that link them together. They also speak loudly on their own, without disrupting the other work.
Furthermore, meeting with Julie Barton put the whole visit into perspective for me. It opened my eyes to behind the scenes work, of things I had never considered. For example, she talked about how work is hung and how because of the architecture of the Guggenheim, works have to be slightly angled to create an illusion of balance. She also discussed the process of conserving the works that were shown in Artistic License, and the decisions that had to be made before the show could open to the public. For example, she spoke about how the materials listed under the title of a work are carefully deliberated in order to ensure that it is communicated in the clearest way possible to viewers. I never even thought about the way the mediums are listed before. There is so much that goes into the process that I did not realize. While I was aware of how tedious conserving paintings was, I did not consider the limitations and struggles that conservators face. I can imagine it is very difficult, but rewarding work. I am sure that Julie’s talk will continue to influence the way I look at art in the future.