viernes, 9 de julio de 2010

Miami Herald on "Human Rites" at the Bass Museum

Bass Museum's new exhibit, 'Human Rites,' pairs pieces from permanent collections with contemporary works
By Tom Austin
Special to the Miami Herald

As Terentius, the Roman playwright, famously observed, ``Nothing human is foreign to me,'' and Human Rites, the new show at the Bass Museum of Art, pretty much covers the waterfront. It examines the alliance between art and ritual, mixing borrowed contemporary work with pieces from the Bass' permanent collection. A sculpture of a Buddhist monk from the Yuan Dynasty (1206-1368), for instance, enters the same playing field as Rirkrit Tiravanija's Buddha Project, 200 hand-carved wooden Buddha figurines arranged on corner-shaped, stainless-steel shelves and straddling the line between devotion and kitsch.
The show, curated by the Bass' Silvia Karman Cubiñá and Steve Holmes, is the second of three exhibitions in the Endless Renaissance Series. This is a continuing effort to pair the museum's permanent collection -- lots of old-fashioned, positively ancient stuff done in that long-ago time when art was supposed to be about moral uplift and improving the human condition -- with the pop-goes-the-weasel punch of contemporary work, which is often bent on leading the charge to the gutter. As usual, the dark world of humankind is more intriguing than the spiritual realm.

Human Rites begins on a cheery, transcendent note with Ringhead (Exorcism from Style), a downstairs installation by Cesar Trasobares, the former director of Miami-Dade's Art in Public Places program. Trasobares began using rings, self-created and found at shops, as a retreat from the public realm of his job. Some of his rings function as a homage to artists he liked or worked with, from Claes Oldenburg to Purvis Young; other pieces, such as a kitschy quince ring and rings made from dollar bills, expand on his previous museum shows. The found-object rings -- biker rings with skulls, a huge affair used for Jewish Orthodox weddings, Miccosukee rings that resemble alligators -- offer a telling glimpse at varying cultures.
(Apart from Human Rites, the Bass has a Kolkoz exhibition in a small room downstairs, the Cabinet. The French art collective continues its dumbed-down Dada series of exploring the framing of art with two pieces, ornate gold frames within frames leading to nothingness.)
Human Rites occupies the entire second floor. On the staircase wall is Thomas Hirschhorn's Necklace CNN, 2002, an eight-foot chain of gold wrapping paper with the CNN logo writ large, in the manner of hip-hop bling. The chain, with the letters of the icon of infotainment and hung like a crucifix, would give Ted Turner the ego boost he doesn't need. At the top of the stairs is Allan McCollum's 240 Plaster Surrogates, 1982-1991, enamel-on-plaster repetitive pieces that explore the notion of constructed objects as surrogates for the real thing -- sort of like Facebook.
Throughout the galleries are some smart pieces, starting with photographs of Gotham Handbook, 2000, a Sophie Calle installation that utilized a set of instructions from novelist Paul Auster on the challenge of creating a public personal space. The urban intervention entailed placing an array of objects in a New York phone booth -- water, cigarettes, flowers -- next to the simple sign ``Enjoy.'' Calle charted the responses in her field study (``125 smiles given for 72 received''), also incorporating written comments from sensible pedestrians: ``You should replace the cigarettes with sunflower seeds.''
A Massimo Vitali photograph, San Marco, Venice, 2005, is all about the rite of milling around in scenic public squares dominated by heavy-duty religious imagery. It's paired with 16th century Venetian votives. One of the strongest pieces in the show bridges the old and new worlds: two powerful photographs from Shirin Neshat's Rapture Series, 1999, images of Iranians caught between traditional and modern culture.
Christian Boltanski's Untitled (Reserve), 1989, is a wall-mounted installation with folded clothes, photographs and lights, resembling an altar piece. (The clothes are from lost-and-found boxes at train stations; the photographs are of 1931 Jewish schoolchildren facing the horror of the concentration camps.) It's counter-pointed by old Greek and Italian altars.
The Ghanaian artist El Anatsui contributed Bukpa Old Town, 2009, a tapestry made of flattened metal caps from African liquor bottles strung together with copper wire. Paolo Cane-vari's video Bouncing Skull, 2007, contains irresistible images of a boy in Belgrade who plays soccer with a rubber skull. Subodh Gupta's Dubai to Mumbai, 2006, chronicles the ritual migrations of grossly exploited workers around the world. The piece consists of a bronzed airport luggage cart, along with an aluminum rendering of one of those huge, tied-together parcels the underclass is forever lugging through airports.

Ai Wei Wei's Forever Bicycles, 2003, a sculpture made from 72 bicycles built by the Chinese company of the piece's title, is another gem, as is the piece by Mexican artist Emilio Chapela. Various Titles (From Ask Google), 2010, consists of questions posed to Google, from ``Why are Mexicans lazy?'' to ``Why are artists crazy?''
As usual, a dark world is more intriguing than the spiritual realm. This is an age of not particularly amusing ironies, when everything is better on paper, and life is lived as one big conceptual art installation. One of the best things in the show -- Mark Dion's Brockton Cabinet, 2001 -- is also one of the most abstract, sharp as all get out.
The piece examines the exhaustive obsession and rituals entailed in collecting and scientific exploration, particularly with regard to the gentleman explorers of the Victorian era, who put together encyclopedic system-of-knowledge collections that went off on bizarre tangents. Within a hand-built oak cabinet, the sort of thing you might see at the British Museum, are glass-topped drawers with an array of objects -- from plastic swizzle sticks to discarded shoe heels -- in the drawers. The objects were culled from the trash heaps of Brockton, Mass.
As one Bass employee observed, ``You open up the drawer, expecting priceless archaeological artifacts, and it's just a bunch of useless s - - - that doesn't mean anything.'' But in the right context, it kind of means everything.

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