Monday, December 1, 2008

How to Have an Art Show Without the Actual Art

Recently I went to the Christo and Jean Claude show at the Phillips Gallery. It's a fascinating if perhaps a too long show displaying every aspect of their work to create a conceptual art piece out of a number of miles of semi-translucent fabric suspended over the Arkansas River in Colorado. Like most of their pieces, it sounds simple in text but I imagine when it is executed in reality, as it will happen a few years from now, it will be a stunning interaction of nature and man-made materials. The interesting thing about the show is not the art, which are all variations of what a stretch of river would look like when covered with the fabric, but the detailed explanations and pictures of all the community meetings, town hall meetings, government meetings, and design meetings. Basically, making this kind of art is quite literally a decades long project that constantly evolves, and swings back and forth. I'm holding back on just using a river metaphor, but you get the idea.

I was also reminded of one of the best art shows I have seen, which was a Gordon Matta-Clark show a few years at the Whitney Museum. Matta-Clark also works in instalations, most famously sawing abandoned houses literally in half and then meticulously documenting the results. It sounds like a stunt, but the results are both beautiful and harsh. Matta-Clark meticulously documented his works with photo and video, and these made up much of the exhibit, but there were also actual chunks of one of his houses sitting on the gallery floor to be pondered. His work showed the way light and air can enter a once contained object and the photos of cracks of light snaking through a once enclosed houses are quite captivating.

Both of these shows were great examples of how to engage an audience in a conceptual art piece, even one that has already happened, or has not even happened yet.

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