Sunday, August 7, 2011

Fragments in Time and Space

Where: Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

When: through August 28, 2011

This show is made up of pieces from the Hirshhorn's own collection and focuses on how artists have explored time and space in their work. As arts funding has decreased during the recession, many museums have turned to putting on shows comprised of pieces from their own permanent collections. I can imagine the cost of putting up such a show would be considerably less than arranging for shipment of works of art from other locations, and it allows visitors to see pieces they might otherwise miss, or see them in a new context. Clearly, an example of receiving lemons and making lemonade.

Of course, this is the Hirshhorn, so you know going in that there will be at least one ridiculous piece in the show. The first one is in the first room (may as well begin as we mean to go on); it's entitled Oct. 24, 1971, and it's a sign with that date on it. That's the whole work. It's one of a series of these signs with dates on them - three appear in the show. I practically had to pry my eyeballs loose from the top of my head.

Something I'll mention that I often see at exhibits, and I haven't written about so far, are the helpful guards. I wandered into a room full of seascapes (very nice - see below for description), and a guard approached to warn me about the riser in front of the photographs that was very hard to see in the darkened room (what is it about the Hirshhorn and their desire to show everything in the dark?). He also directed me to the description of the series of photos on the far wall. Really pleasant and helpful - thank you!!

The seascapes themselves were quite nice, actually. They are simply water and sky, each photo divided in half. I liked them, although it did make me realize how much I enjoy a bit of greenery about my water. It makes me feel as if I'm standing on shore, looking at the view, as opposed to being in the water, desperate for shore. The Post had an article in its weekend section on Friday discussing several "eye-popping" works of art in the area, and this set of photos was one of the pieces listed.

The piece from which the picture above is taken is a video called Play Dead; Real Time by Douglas Gordon. It's a video of a circus elephant repeatedly performing a trick; one feels sorry for the poor creature. It looks tired and sad. Always a dangerous matter to assign human emotions to animals, I know, but I really couldn't watch it for very long. It's on multiple large screens in one of the room, and on a small television screen in the corner of the room.

By this point, I remembered one of my other criticisms of the Hirshhorn: the enormity of their exhibits. Why must the pieces be so spread out that you feel as if you've completed the Bataan Death March by the time you've seen them all? I'm no fan of the style of exhibits that hangs dozens of pieces on each wall, one atop the other - I feel as if I can't get a sense of any of them - but this was just too spread out; nothing seemed to have any context or relationship to anything else.

Towards the end of the show, there was a video of a pig farm done by John Gerrard. I remember seeing this piece before, along with a few other video pieces - they incorporate virtual reality into the videos. It's less boring to watch then you'd think, and I felt a sense of satisfaction that I recognized the piece. A series of photographs by David Claerbout entitled Sections of a Happy Moment caught my eye. I love the title, and the photos were of kids playing in what appeared to be a schoolyard or neighborhood playground. Rather melancholy music was attached to it, with which I could have dispensed. I also liked Niagara by Wolfgang Staehle, a beautiful picture of rushing water.

Verdict: I've seen worse shows at the Hirshhorn! It's very large, so don't dawdle if you're on your lunch hour. Some of the pieces are quite interesting, and others aren't worth the paper they're painted on, but overall, it's worth a look.

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