Tyler Green, who writes the country's leading visual arts blog , Modern Art Notes, published this review of MOMA's show of artists mostly from an Islamic background: link to review A lot of people have seen this show while they were in NY to see the Whitney Biennial. Green's point is the show's lack of political context for the works. His discussion of Emily Jacir should make sense to anyone in Nashville who saw her piece on the Ramallah border crossing at Cheekwood. The elision of politics from the show strikes one first-off as fear of taking (or being perceived to take) a position on the war or on Israeli policies. However, one can imagine a more well-meaning reason, the desire to show that Islam and Islamic culture means more to these artists than political polemics. A desire to avoid reducing artists to a cariacture of the angry Muslim. However, even if we assume such a well-intentioned motive, it doesn't give the artists or audiences much credit that they need to be saved from themselves. People would be able to get that the idea that political concerns are unavoidably important, but others are going on at the same time.
A good part of the point of Chelsea is to come up with gee-whiz stuff, going for the reaction “did you see that.”The winners in what I saw yesterday were first of all Tara Donovan’s piece at Pace Wildenstein – one of the large cab garages, fill with millions of plastic cups stacked up at different heights to create an arctic environment. Total gee-whiz. Then on a smaller scale there was a piece from a collaboration between Masamichi Udagawa and Sigi Moeslinger at Frederieke Taylor. There’s a mirror on the wall, and coming up in front of it is a metal element that has two loops on it. There’s instructions to blow through it softly. This produces a cloud of little avatar creatures that appear on the surface of the mirror, covering up your own reflection and then fading back. It’s the last thing you expect to be asked to do and the last response you expect from the device.
Some good stuff:
Didier Mahieu’s sprawling memory piece at the ChelseaArt Museum, which also has a good exhibit on Andrea Zittel (I guess the first floor is really the New Museum of Contemporary Art).
Jil Weinstock’s clothes encased in rubber, although maybe she reduces it too much to minimalist gestures.
Jeff Chien-Hsing Liao operatic photos of Queens and other NY streetscapes.
Masato Okazaki b&w photos of interior spaces that open out into winter landscapes. I don’t have the gallery name handy. It was on 25th.
Holli Schorno’s collages constructed from illustrations of machines drawn out into delicate forms.
Scott Peterman photos at Silverstein. Some are pretty Misrach-y desert landscapes, but they include Mexican housing projects that have a massive repeated patterns of structures and Sao Paolo cityscapes that surprised me because I’m not familiar with the city and it seems denser and more developed than I thought.
Adam Fowler, a DC guy who draws looping structures in pencil, then cuts out the drawing and overlays it. A really nice texture.
Also, Kara Walker’s exhibit at the Met is great. Some of Barbara Yontz’ students at St. Thomas Aquinas said they liked her writing the best. They have a point. She makes a beautiful statement about Katrina and the way it connects to larger issues of water, disaster, and race in history. The exhibit itself is wonderfully indirect, in combining obscure pieces from the Met’s collection and Walker’s work.
Annual art trip to New York going on now. Yesterday the Whitney Biennial, David Smith at Guggenheim, and MOMA. I wasn’t as excited about the Biennial this year. Much of the work seemed admirable, but I have to admit being turned on by surprising and well-made stuff. The work seemed more political, like it absorbed all the energy that went into the 2004 campaign. In some cases what you see here are the results of that period, like Richard Serra’s Stop Bush poster with the hooded image from Abu Ghraib.
One exception was Urs Fischer’s big piece, two large branches painted silver, rotating from the ceiling with a lit candle at their ends. The candles deposited thickening circles of wax, and their own remains.
Peter Huyghe’s video about a trip to Antarctica and its reenactment in Central Park was very lovely. Except for opening narration, it was wordless but very emotional. It was all images and very slight motions. A woman on the boat turns her head slightly. What more do you need.
Chicago prejudice also kicked in. Jim O’Rourke’s video, where two opposing images of a door flashed across from a dark cityscape was pleasurable, largely because of the lush series of drones and overtones on the sound track. And Paul Chan’s animated silhouettes in a city sky projected onto the floor, objects floating up and bodies falling down, was so direct in making use of the 9-11 images but made it all a magical and fluid experience. In important ways an outrageous piece, but also one with a much broader perspective than we seem capable of these days.
At MOMA, they had a great little show of work by people from the Islamic world or interested in Islam. Raqib Shaw had this spectacular large painting, Garden of Earthly Delights III. In an Islam miniature style, blown up to grand proportions, it contains all manner of beautiful transgressions. Some of the paint seems to be auto body paint, thick enamels, and cheap spangles are affixed throughout. In the same room were smaller pieces and an animation by Shahzia Sikander, also using the miniature style, and pigments like tea and vegetable colors. One image that has been reproduced widely has a horned woman, some sort of pagan god as I imagine it.
This was my first time in the new MOMA. I've avoided it up til now. A lot of the spaces felt too garage-like. Big rooms with really tall ceilings. I was surprised the flows in the exhibits weren’t clearer. But there’s more floor area, and they were able to put out some amazing stuff, particularly in prints and drawings.
My wife bought me a copy of a new translation of Gilgamesh, really a poetic version of it taken from other translations, by Stephen Mitchell. I haven’t read this since college, so it was nice to go back to it today. When Gilgamesh goes to seek Utnapishtim, the man granted immortality, he must go to the underworld which you enter at a place called in this version Twin Peaks. I had never made this connection with David Lynch, but it makes sense. I’ve always thought that images and sounds in Blue Velvet paralleled elements in the Tibetan Book of the Dead, like the sputtering of lamps. I don’t think you can draw a one-to-one comparisons, so his film is not a depiction of the Book of the Dead, it’s just similar enough to suggest that he’s passing into or through the same realm, a realm of the dead or of immortals. Ditto with the TV show.
A week ago Saturday I had the good fortune to attend several hours of the Aradhana at SriGaneshaTemple. An aradhana is an all-day gathering of practitioners of Carnatic music. Performers, mostly vocalists, from all over the Southeast came and performed. The event has a pedagogical level – the theme this year was the Post-Trinity composers, which refers to the many composers in South Indian music who came after a trio of 19th century musicians (Tyagaraja Swami, Muthuswamy Dikshitar, Shyama Shastry)
who are considered the guiding lights or founders of South Indian music. Rather than something like a fiddler’s convention, where everyone comes in and plays selections of their choosing, the program was coordinated to avoid repetitions and demonstrate the styles of as many composers as possible. The aradhana is also considered to have a devotional character, and ended with blessings by the Temple priests for the performers and all in attendance. Some concerts at the Temple, depending on the material presented, have a more devotional character than others and therefore involve the priests officiating at some point.
I got there around and stayed through the end of the performances at . The entire day started at 10 in the morning I believe. I’m afraid that I have not always made it to the end of the concerts there, but it is highly recommended. Some of the music’s effects occur through the temporal immersion. I could feel the solid beats of the mridangam for easily a day afterwards somewhere inside my body.
This program provides a chance to hear many vocalists from Nashville or nearby. It is surprising to realize the depth of talent present locally among people who cannot make their living doing this. Then again, it is really not so surprising, and not so different from the way people make music in every other community around here.
Let me mention some of the names of participants who stood out. Keep an eye out for their names, and if you are ever aware that they are performing, try to catch them. (And I apologize for any spelling errors in these names.)
Preetha Narayan: soon to graduate from Vanderbilt, trained as a classical violinist as well.
Sandhya Mudumbi. From Nashville but in college in St. Louis. In the tillanas (group songs) that ended the program, she served as a lead female voice balancing Sankaran Mahadevan. She matched his voice well, and gave that performance great energy. She’s also a talented dancer.
Ram Kaushik: From Nashville, and I hadn’t put his name and face together before, but I see him at a lot of these concerts and he gave a concert himself at the Temple in December I think. Which I missed. Too bad. I particularly enjoyed his phrasing, which seemed to be placed behind the beat like a jazz musician.
Ramesh Rebba. From Detroit, and provided some insights on the variety of voices that this music accommodates. He has a reedier timbre, which gives his singing a different energy.
Sankaran Mahadevan gave the final solo performance. He organizes the music program at the Temple, and he organized this aradhana. He also teaches many of the people who performed. And as I’ve posted before (link), he is a superb singer and this came out even more clearly through comparison with the others on the bill. This is not to denigrate the quality of the others, but simply to acknowledge that his place of honor in the final spot was well-deserved. An event like this makes it clearer how he is participating in the work of building an outpost of Indian culture here that extends back to India in immediate ways.
It was a complete pleasure to attend at least part of this musical day, and afterwards I had a great conversation with Monica Cooley, Sankaran’s wife and the main teacher of Indian dance in the community (GlobalEducationCenter, Vanderbilt, her own studio).
What I've heard so far sounds first rate, unadulerated by cross-overs. It mixes up meditative pieces for small ensembles with one or two solo instruments (tar, setar, violin, etc,), vocals of various sorts, and larger, more orchestral groups. Radio Darhish doesn't give any information on the tracks, but you can find info on many of the artists here:
A writer and musician living in Nashville, TN. I write about art for a couple of publications, and use this blog for material that doesn't quite fit into the format or schedules of those publications, and to range a little farther afield.