The Art World has more in common
with Hollywood than it would care to admit: both are star systems
built on the glamorization of a
few "big personalities." You can now see work from some of the biggest stars of the 1960s and 70s at The Museum of Contemporary Art,
Grand Avenue, which currently houses an exhibition of painting and
sculpture emphasizing works of heavy
hitters Lynda Benglis, Roy Lichtenstein, Claus Oldenburg, Donald
Judd, Andy Warhol, and more. Each of these artists is so
well-known that the viewer is tempted to engage in "celebrity sighting" with each work. An
oversized soft sewn representation of an object which should be
hard? "Oldenburg!" Colorful, plastic layered hard oozing drips?
"Lynda Benglis." "Who is she?" my companion asks. "You never saw
that Artforum cover," I retort, or I'm certain he wouldn't be
asking. A very large plywood construction like a
30 foot box, completely unfinished and without any other purpose
than formally taking up space, which is what sculpture does best, leaves
me snapping my fingers for two or three seconds before mumbling,
"Oh yeah, Donald Judd." "It doesn't do anything for me," says my
companion, stating the obvious. "It's Donald Judd, it's not supposed to," I respond, parroting the mystique of minimalism.
I see some muddy palette mixed with newspaper clippings, and I don't even bother yelling Rauschenberg, I just mumble, yes, yes, a Rauschenberg, and think fondly of his retrospective at this same museum in 2006 in which I developed a greater appreciation for his hitherto unknown to me later work, which I thought was more about the bridge between the mundane and the spiritual and painting and photography than between painting and sculpture, which is the work he is known for, from the period represented here. Sadly, the artist passed on in 2008 and I am still kicking myself for missing his lecture in Los Angeles. Of all the artists included in this show, Rauschenberg is the one I most closely associate with the stated theme of the curator, MOCA Assistant Curator Rebecca Morse.
The show highlights a time in which hypothetically sculpture began to take on painterly concerns, although I would say that sculpture began to take on the changed concerns of painting after photography had long eliminated the need for painting to be representational. And painting recovered from reduced status by becoming more irrational, like the eccentric girlfriend of a rock star after their break-up. Sculpture, taking its cue, went along with the whole goofy atmosphere. The problem with curating a show along such a hypothesis is that the art world isn't driven by ideas. It's driven by a star system in which ideas are only butterflies on the wall. When the whisper of butterflies is louder than the artist's ego, then it's worth it. Turning the corner of the exhibition, I finally found that moment, in a very large room of wall-to-wall Rothko paintings. "Rothko," I said, with a little smile. And I sat there for a long time, soaking up the sublime.