I have wonderful friends. Ones who support me and understand me. So, when they heard I was injured and stuck lying around; off my leg for weeks to come, two of the most insightful ones brought me a gift of art. Both went to museums and came back to me with Rothkos. One with a beautiful print and, one with a powerfully written tale of his trip to see a Rothko in my honor. They understand me well.
Some works of art have the ability to transport us emotionally to another plane of experience. Certainly music will do this for most of us. Think of the elevating power of the final movement of Beethoven’s 9th symphony, the Ode to Joy or listen to Pachelbel’s canon. Visual arts too have this power. The Shiva Linga paintings that I discussed in an earlier post are a clear and direct example of this. They were painted as devotional images intended for use during meditation to help the believer focus their prayers. The paintings depict one of the forms of the Hindu god Shiva, the god of destruction and transformation. He oversees death and rebirth. These paintings therefore are meant to represent transitional space between creation and dissolution.
Despite my not being Hindu or particularly meditative, I found these paintings absolutely compelling. They are simple and repetitive; painted on found scraps of paper by individual, anonymous practitioners. Similar yet interesting in their differences. As I stared into their central black ovals I felt the world around melting away from behind me while the black space grew to envelope my thoughts.
I have to wonder if Mark Rothko perhaps saw and was influenced by similar paintings. There are parallels to be found in his work: the spare design, simple color blocks and, the intended purpose of transcendence. Rothko meant for us, the viewers stand close to and alone in front of his paintings. He meant for us to be embraced by them. A sensuous, tragic, moving embrace. So now I in possession of my own Rothko’s, feel able to extend beyond the limits of my own experience. I am momentarily lifted beyond the couch and into the enfolding spell that art can provide. ©
My muse has been distressingly quiet lately. Sitting here earlier I was wondering if maybe I need a trip to a museum to stir up the creative juices but, alas… no trip in the works at this moment. So, instead I began thinking through the art I have seen or studied in the past year, turning the virtual pages in my mind. It was a good year for travel; a good year for experiencing art. Here are some of the highlights:
- Ai Weiwei’s Sunflower Seeds This sculpture presented by the conceptual artist was made up of over one hundred million porcelain sunflower seeds. The seeds we handmade by hundreds of artisans working in small workshops in the city of Jingdezhen, China. The exhibit is meant to evoke thoughts of the role of the individual in society, our increasing numbers and the effects of our needs, wants and demands on the world. It is made all that much more meaningful by the recent arrest of Ai Weiwei.
- Shiva Linga Paintings These were perfectly introduced by Franck Andre Jamme: “The thought has often occurred to me that perhaps never in the universal history of painting, have works at once so mysterious and simple, yet so powerful and pure ever been produced – a bit as if, here, man’s genius had been able to assemble almost everything in almost nothing”. The were created as aids to meditation and indeed they are powerfully meditative. While looking at them, I had to wonder if Mark Rothko studied them such are the parallels between his work and these paintings both in simplicity of design and intended purpose.
- Rivane Neuenschwander: Rain Rains This incredible installation in the New Museum in Manhattan was introduced rather limply as: being “an environment of leaking buckets that are controlled from flooding by a Sisyphean recirculation tended to by museum staff in four-hour cycles”. This description fails. Rain Rains formed what may have been the most for me moving few art-related moments of 2010. The slow leaks of water from suspended metal buckets to matched buckets below, formed a symphony of plonkety-plonk sounds that filled the room and my heart. Perhaps this again begs the question of why certain art moves each of us individually so much. Why was there, for me, such transcendental power in this room of “rain”?
- Tino Sehgal’s This Progress: Surely this would be on the list made by any NYC art-goer over the last year or so. As I walked up the ramps in the Guggenheim I was in turn approached by 4 people of increasing age (from about 11 to 65) who walked with me for a level. As we walked we talked. I was asked in turn (increasing in age and altitude with each question): “what is progress?”, “Is personal choice always good?”, “what is the meaning of the word amateur” and “This is progress?”. I have continued these magical discussions in my mind since.
- Jennifer Steinkamp’s Rapunzel. I spend much of my time in museums wishing that all good art had a comfortable bench placed right in front of it to facilitate relaxed contemplation. Such seats are rare. Rapunzel is hung in a stairwell at the Crocker Museum. The steps their form an unusual but restful nook to perch in while watching these enchanting swinging vines; perhaps the best “bench” of the year.
- The ever-moving ephemeral art of graffiti passing by on trains continues to fascinate me.It even inspired some of my own efforts: