BERKELEY, California — At Haines Gallery in San Francisco’s Financial District, I finally got to see Ai Weiwei’s notorious “Kui Hua Zi” (Sunflower Seeds). There has been much hype around Ai Weiwei and this particular installation, and seeing it caught me by surprise. The Haines Gallery installation was smaller than I expected and much calmer than the media surrounding it. Yet as I looked on, the piece and its maker’s history withdrew into the background, while its powerful implications and art historical relevance grew. It is a truly remarkable piece.
If most people think of contemporary Baltimore as the land of John Waters, then maybe the Baltimore Museum of Art’s growing presence on the contemporary art scene may help diversify people’s perceptions beyond the drag queen Divine and campy gay bars. The museum announced details yesterday about their renovation currently in progress on its contemporary wing.
While at the landmark exhibition Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture at the Brooklyn Museum, I realized I had to start my review with a statement that will look simple and quite possibly stupid: Hide/Seek is more than David Wojnarowicz’s “A Fire In My Belly.”
To commemorate the 10th anniversary, MoMA PS1 organized a group exhibition, titled September 11, now on view to January 9, 2012. Curator Peter Eleey has brought together more than 70 works by 41 artists — many made prior to 9/11 — to investigate the attacks’ enduring resonance.
Avoiding sensational images of the attack, as well as art made directly in response, the exhibition offers an entry point by which to contemplate the tragic event and its after effects and to look at the ways it has changed how we see and experience the world in its wake.
Sometimes an exhibition reminds you of why exhibitions exist, those surprising moments when usually dull curatorial exercises become transcendent experiences, reinvigorating overlooked corners of art history. I Am Still Alive at the Museum of Modern Art is one of those exhibitions, defiant and vivacious as anything I’ve seen in New York in the past few years. The show focuses entirely on drawing, demonstrating contemporary drawing’s engagement with the politics of living and everyday life. This is art as struggle and art as achievement, nowhere more reaffirmed than in On Kawara’s telegrams sent to the artist’s dealers and friends simply stating: “I am still alive.” To make art and to fight through problems and conflicts, social or personal, through the medium of art is to be alive.
Halloween is already past, so candy is supposed to be on sale, right? Not at last night’s Philips de Pury sale when a lucky bidder ended up paying $4.5 million for 200 pounds of blue cellophane-wrapped treats. The candy pile by Felix Gonzalez-Torres was only one of a number of high-selling works at the auction house’s Carte Blanche and Contemporary Art Part I auctions.
Ai Weiwei’s Sunflower Seeds at the Tate’s Turbine Hall space in London opened to a good deal of rejoicing. Viewers and critics alike were entranced by the installation, a field of 100 million sunflower seeds that were actually carved from porcelain. An abundance of press photos show exhibition-goers frolicking in piles of seeds, tossing them up into the air, making seed-angels and having a great time. HOWEVER! The Tate has since been forced to alter Ai’s exhibition due to health hazards: the tons of porcelain seeds were kicking up a fine ceramic dust, easily breathed into the lungs of art aficionados. Visitors can now only gaze at Ai’s piece from a cordoned off observation deck.
Widely exhibited and praised, the work of the late Tobias Wong forced the design (not to mention contemporary art) world to reconsider art’s relationship to mass commerce and up-to-the-minute pop culture as well as face up to its own Ivory Tower insularity. Some of his objects will live on.