Perambulating the Bounds

Friday, December 29, 2006

Today's DC jaunt: Hirshhorn

Got down to the Hirshhorn today, along with a brief trip to the Sackler to see Samrin Gill and a stop at the Phillips to admire their new wing and get a look at the Société Anonyme.

The main thing at the Hirshhorn was The Uncertainty of Objects and Ideas, a show of contemporary sculpture by 9 artists. Most of it was messy in one way or the other, and papier machié and Styrofoam were the most common materials. I guess that’s pretty much in keeping with the biennials I see, or a walk in Chelsea. One of the big messy pieces I liked best was Black Hole (Schwarzes Loch) by Björn Dahlem. It’s a huge start burst made up of long wooden boards. Stuck in between the boards and impaled on them are every manner of common object: fluorescent light units, traffic cones, a bass drum, a chain saw, a pet carrying case, chairs, trikes and bikes, strollers, crutches. On one level it’s just a big, cool thing, exciting in a rudimentary way, simply by virtue of its spiky shape. It also keeps to its Black Hole namesake, drawing into itself seemingly the entire physical culture of contemporary life, all jumbled together and condensed.

They also had three of the artists select sculptures from the collection, and there were some pieces there that were not in regular view when I went all the time as a teenager and college student. A Lee Bontecou piece called Cocoon, yellow silk stretched over a balsa frame hanging in a steel cage. Stephan von Huene’s Totem Tone V, two wooden organ pipes that sound off in loud, sonorous tones; it seemed like a random pattern and that it produced more than two notes. Several pieces by Mary Bauermesiter, spheres in and outside vitrines covered with drawing and interspersed with lens. And not part of that show, they had one of Roxy Paine’s artificial fungus fields that got me thinking about the Material Terrain show coming up at Cheekwood which includes her.

One thing that struck me today, something I took for granted when I saw the collection back in the 70s, was that this is a remarkably comprehensive collection of post-war American art and it was basically assembled by one guy. There's one of about everything and multiples of important figures like Clifford Still. It's hard to imagine how much money he must have had.

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