art news & reviews & Interviews. jeff bergman, editor

48th – Soundings & Matthew Barney

The problem with, and triumph of, seeing sound based art is that there isn’t always something to see.  I think this is more of a problem for the museum (or venue) or curator (or gallerist) than for the viewer. Soundings: A Contemporary Score at MoMA sometimes offers things that are to view rather than what is there to hear.  My feeling is still that art that looks good and has sound references may belong here, but does not serve the purpose of educating me about contemporary sound art.  I would have made this a different show, solely about sound.

First, the good news.  Tristan Perich composed a piece (which was performed last week by the Meehan/Perkins Duo) as well contributing his piece, Microtonal Wall, 2011 to the show.  This is an artist (one of only two I knew before Soundings)  that I knew because of his album project 1-Bit Symphony.  Both the wall and the performance were excellent.  They felt like one clear path toward the collaboration between what is possible with electronic musical composition and live performance.

Susan Philipsz made a beautiful piece that may have been too sparse in this iteration.  To explore both the concept and music itself, the artist or MoMA should have provided a less static space.  Study for Strings, 2012 is a haunting piece of music, taken from a Pavel Haas orchestral work, but utilizing only the cello and viola parts.  The piece was created at Teresiendstadt, a concentration camp that was filmed and presented as a model camp by the Third Reich.  Most of its inhabitants were shipped off to the gas chamber.  The obvious statement here is that the music is missing because its musicians were erased.  When discussing the piece on Modern Art Notes podcast, the artist talks about the presentation of this work on a train platform at Documenta 13.  Its placement on the end of a platform, its association with train movement and its location in the world offered inexplicit but vital connections. At MoMA, the music is in the vein of a Morton Feldman piece, though not about duration, rather inadvertent orchestration.  What it loses is its context and its guts.  It is still haunting.

The rest is a mix.  There are others that provide great imagery (Camille Norment and Christine Sun Kim) that do not offer sound art at all.  There is a great project by Hong-Kai Wang using video and factory sounds.  Haroon Mirza has fun with blinky lights and a Mondrian.

All in all Soundings is a good show, but I was hoping for great.  It has brought several artists to my attention and for that I am grateful.



Subliming Vessel: The Drawings of Matthew Barney at The Morgan is the least normal thing you will see this year.  Somehow the endless creepiness of Matthew Barney’s world survives in his drawings, collages and source materials.  The Cremaster is still a complete mystery to me and I feel certain he likes it that way.  The fact is this show is infuriating.  Barney’s drawings range from exciting to barely there.  He uses a very light line and some gold leaf, some odd materials and the results are extremely varied.  He framed his drawings in self lubricating plastic which clearly begs the question, WHY?

I don’t recommend this show because it does not add up to a whole.  Barney’s odd curio cases, culled from the Morgan’s collection with Barney touches are full of porn and dead whales and manuscripts and old magazines.  Its a maddening assortment of things.  The drawings themselves sometimes seem like Odilon Redon or Hans Bellmer.  They are only sometimes good.


Notes for the fall:

Atlas will return to a weekly schedule in mid-September.
Fall Museum shows that look extremely promising:

Chris Burden at the New Museum  October 2, 2013 – January 12, 2014
Balthus: Cats and Girls- Paintings and Provocations” at the Met  September 25, 2013–January 12, 2014
Wangechi Mutu: A Fantastic Journey October 11, 2013–March 9, 2014
Isa Genzken: Retrospective November 23, 2013–March 10, 2014

and Fall Gallery shows:

Chuck Webster at Betty Cunningham September 5 – October 12, 2013
Robert Ryman at Pace Sept 13, 2013 – Oct 26, 2013
John McCracken at Zwirner September 10 – October 19, 2013
Sol Lewitt at Paula Cooper September 3 – October 10, 2013

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