Thursday, July 25, 2013

Dynamo: Un siècle de lumière et de mouvement dans l’art 1913-2013

Anish Kapoor, Untitled, 2008
Until we reached the films by Viking Eggeling, Walther Ruttmann, and Paul Sharits I couldn’t decide whether the problem with this exhibition was the works on display or the way they were exhibited. But then I saw the likes of Tony Conrad’s Flicker, 1966 — a film I always claim, as Annette Michelson announced to me when I was a student, to be the most brilliant film ever made. The inclusion of a selection of films from the 1920s international avant-garde and 1960s & 70s America convinced me that the works were chosen and curated to create something closer to a fun park than an art exhibition. Dynamo is a typical example of a Paris blockbuster designed to attract the summer crowds to the Grand Palais. Dynamo opens with Anish Kapoor’s Untitled, 2008, three metal concave discs that embrace us with their energy as we step into what feels like a magical space transformed sonically as well as visually and conceptually by the discs. However, the exhibition goes downhill quickly, not through any fault of the art, but a design intended for maximum thrill and minimum provocation.

As we wandered through the spaces my friends and I were treated to a visceral experience in which we were carried away by movement, overcome with nausea, disorientation and constantly followed by the persistence of vision, confronted with optical illusions. The experience with many of the works results in a questioning of our own space, and our own orientation within this space. It was a lot of fun to take photos inside the exhibition, to see how so many of the art works are transformed through the iphone lens. We oohhed and ahhed at Dan Flavin’s light works as they refracted colour through the camera to become their opposite, complementary colour. We were consumed by the mysterious and ethereal light creations of James Turrell, mesmerized by the lights in motion of French artist François Morellet, never being able to fully grasp their rhythms and logics.

Although I knew some of the artists' work, and admired that of others, I found myself moving through the exhibition at a fast pace, looking at the work as though looking in the distorting mirrors in a fun park. Any claims that individual works might be making about modern art had no resonance: the possibilities and productivity of light as a medium, the profundity of light as a tool for the organization and transformation of space, its power over human vision, its agency to deceive, to design, to create and diminish time were discursively concealed or bracketed by this smorgasbord of light and movement art. When I reached the experimental films at the end, I realized how much I was missing a context for the works on display. The European avant-garde and structural American films in their time broke every rule of representation, of cultural expectations, of how we understand ourselves in relationship to the visual art object. And yet, in Dynamo, they were displayed as yet another form of visual eye candy that would entertain the masses at the Grand Palais. And the greatest sin of all? They were shown on small screen monitors in DVD format.  

All in all, Dynamo provided pleasant refuge from the heat of a Paris July afternoon, but did nothing to engage or broaden its audience’s experience of the parameters of modern and contemporary art. It was fun from beginning to end, but in my books, that’s not enough to call an exhibition successful. 

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