Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Guggenheim Show a Feast for Eye and Mind

It seems many museums are exploring the influences of East-West dialogue this year, an idea birthed in part by the travels of Marco Polo and still topical today with the enthusiasm for late 20th and early 21st C. Asian contemporary art.

“The Third Mind: American Artists Contemplate Asia, 1860-1989”is a veritable visual circus that delights the eye and engages the mind. It creatively and most successfully illustrates how the arts, philosophy and literature of Asia, much appreciated by intellectual circles in the West in the 19th and 20th C.,inspired American artists to see and experience their world in a new way.

Upon entering the rotunda and taking in Frank Lloyd Wright’s ascending ramp that spirals up six levels you are greeted by two large cubes of ice around which eight microphones peer down like inquisitive mechanical birds. This is Paul Kos’s installation “Sound of Ice Melting” (1970) created to inspire the visitor to become a deep listener, slowing the mind to become aware of the ambient environment.

Before this can be effectively achieved, dulcet tones of bronze Tibetan cymbals ring out. Tethered by a leather cord attached to a “bell carriage”draped in flowing white silk,the ethereal vehicle gracefully descends around the inner rotunda spiral. All visitors gather along the edge to cheer it on as its random, pristine chime calls us again to clarify our minds and pay attention.

This is a remarkable site-specific piece that artist Ann Hamilton created for the show using book weights of thousands of cut-up books that are reassembled in bundles to create weights that ascend and descend with a pulley system. The title of the work is called “human carriage” (2009) and it represents the power of the transmission of ideas through books.
Books were the vehicles that relayed the Eastern ideas to creative thinkers and spiritual seekers in America for the most part.

There is a short video on the Guggenheim website in which the artist explains her concept in creating this piece, as well as a wonderful introduction and virtual tour to the exhibition by Alexandra Munroe, senior Curator of Asian Art.

From iconic work by 19th C. artists such as James McNeil Whistler, Mary Cassatt, and early 20th C. O’Keefe, Dove, Stieglitz and their circle, to mid 20th C Mark Toby, Morris Graves, Franz Kline... The list just goes on and on, as over 100 artists are represented by exceptional works.

Even the Beats are visually represented, the title actually references William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin’s recombined cut-up manuscript called “The Third Mind”. Jack Kerouac, Ferlinghetti, and others have unexpected drawings and paintings included. This chronological order culminates on the top floor which is devoted to experimental video and minimalist works from the 1980s.

This stimulating show ends on April 19th. If you find yourself in New York City before then, run don’t walk to the Guggenheim Museum. An excellent audio guide is free with the admission of $18.00 and greatly adds to the experience.
If not, at least treat yourself to a taste of the experience by taking the virtual tour on the website www.guggenheim.org !

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