April 14, 2008

2 art exhibitions in NY — one Japanese, one Chinese.

I saw 2 art exhibitions this weekend. One was the bright, poppy Takashi Murakami show at the Brooklyn Museum:
This survey of Takashi Murakami, the artist frequently called the Japanese Andy Warhol, has it all: immense, toylike sculptures; an animated cartoon that rivals Disney; and a fully functioning Louis Vuitton boutique (Brooklyn’s first!) selling Murakami bags. But it also elucidates the trajectory of an artist who began by recycling Japanese popular culture and then gradually figured out how to go deeper, harnessing Japanese traditions of painting, craft and spirituality. The art-commerce, high-low conundrums are fun, but the steady improvement in the paintings is the real heart of the matter. Along with the animated cartoons, which should please aesthetes of all ages, there is a moral component as well.
I loved this show. You should come out to Brooklyn and see it. I've got no photos — they weren't allowed — but there's plenty of video with the artist charmingly explaining himself here.

Then, at the Guggenheim, there's "Cai Guo-Qiang: I Want to Believe":
This museumwide survey of a leading Chinese artist indicates considerable command of cross-cultural references and extreme appropriation, including a gang of sculptors remaking a classic Social Realist ensemble of life-size figures while you watch. Gunpowder is a favored material, violence a frequent motif. A stop-action installation of seemingly exploding cars hangs in the atrium space. Scores of arrows make pincushions of snarling tigers (stuffed), and there are carved-wood religious sculptures and an entire fishing boat. Videos documenting pyrotechnical land-art pieces go boom. The show has far more than its share of hollow spectacle. The scorched, mural-size gunpowder drawings that combine elements of performance art, Abstract Expressionism and traditional Chinese and Japanese painting are the most believable.
Less color, less cuteness than Murakami, but equally outlandish. To me, there is far more profundity in Murakami, but I got something from those leaping clusters of life-size tigers, wolves, pigs, and cars and those drawings made from exploding gunpowder. No photos allowed here either. Go here for some video.

One quibble, and it's not Cai Guo-Qiang's fault. As I entered the rotunda, the guard handed me one of those audio-tour devices with headphones. "Do I need that?" I asked, thinking the show might have an integrated audio track that was part of the artwork. "Yes," she said, so I took it only to discover it was some earnest pedant telling me what to look at, for how long, and what to think. Ugh! Entering the up ramp — it still irks me that they started putting the shows up backwards so that we must walk up the ramp, instead of starting at the top for a gravity-assisted stroll — I passed the place where they were collecting the audio devices from people who were leaving, and I handed mine in. Those things are horrible. How are you supposed to get any good at seeing if someone is always talking in your ear, telling you what to see?

6 comments:

XWL said...

But the important question, did you pick up a Louis Vuitton bag at the Murakami show?

"How are you supposed to get any good at seeing if someone is always talking in your ear, telling you what to see?"

I suspect some people go to art shows not looking to see, but to say to other people that they went, and the pedant in your ear is an invaluable tool for those kind of museum goers so they know what the accepted framework of discussion should be if anyone asks them what they thought.

XWL said...

Shame about the no pictures rule at the Murakami exhibit (would have loved to see what bits and pieces you would have chosen to capture), it was the same in Los Angeles.

Katie said...

I went to the Murakami exhibit on its opening night and thought it was wonderful. Murakami was supposedly wandering through the galleries, but I didn't notice him / didn't think to look for him. I loved walking into the big room covered in daisy-strewn wallpaper. It was like walking into something out of Willy Wonka.

I managed to snap a few photos surreptitiously, under the logic of "well, all these people are taking photos of their children and they aren't getting in trouble! The photos came out beautifully.

Ann, did you notice a preponderance of children? There were a ton of babies and toddlers when I was there (which may be a factor of the attendees being local baby-laden Brooklynites or something) and they all seemed to love the bright colors and characters. (Note to potential child-toters: there is some 3-d nudity and such, but you can sort of dash by it if needed)

Anyway, they also had the Masters of Japanese Prints or something like that open, and it was cool to see in relation to the poppy Murakami. Oh, my one complaint: I went there totally hoping to take home a nice print, but they were only selling a small number of prints and most were sold out. I was expecting a lot more in the way of posters, small prints, etc!

Ann Althouse said...

"I loved walking into the big room covered in daisy-strewn wallpaper. It was like walking into something out of Willy Wonka."

Yes, that was my favorite thing, but it was, of course, about death.

"Note to potential child-toters: there is some 3-d nudity and such, but you can sort of dash by it if needed"

Yes, there is a life-size sculpture of an anime-style teenage boy, with an erection, jerking off, and ejaculating a huge, splashy wreath of semen that encircles him. Make sure they don't look at that, or his sculptural friend, a young woman with basketball-sized breasts squeezing out a matching stream of milk. And don't watch the video of the little robot boy. He keeps getting erections.

Chip Ahoy said...

"Do I need that?" I asked, thinking the show might have an integrated audio track that was part of the artwork. "Yes," she said..

So I signed the word for "deaf," shrugged faintly smiling and continued past.

reader_iam said...

I should have read Althouse's comment here before I clicked on the video tour link ... while my son was sitting next to me. "Looks like manga!" he said.

Oh.