Saturday, February 22, 2014

My Love-Hate Relationship with the Hirshhorn

Long-time readers of this blog will know that I have issues with the Hirshhorn, the Smithsonian's museum dedicated to modern art.  From its ugly design (I call it the concrete doughnut) to its permanent collection of what my niece calls "silly art," my love-hate relationship with the Hirshhorn is light on the love and heavy on the hate.

An exception to my eye-rolling is the Hirshhorn's two series of videos.  They have one called Directions and one called Black Box.  I don't know the difference between them or how videos are chosen for one series or another, but I'm rarely disappointed with what I see.  The videos are weird, no question, but they are also intriguing or funny or thought-provoking in some way.

Recently, I've been to the Hirshhorn to see three things; two videos and one exhibit.  You can guess my thoughts on these, but I'm setting them down online anyway.

Gravity's Edge is the name of the exhibit I went to see.  It's on the lower level, so happily not one of the Bataan Death March shows you get on the second floor.  Despite the wall notes, I was unable to determine what this show had to do either with gravity or edges.  In fact, the wall notes were so confusing, I think I knew less once I'd finished reading them than I did to start.

The example you see above is by Lynda Benglis, and it's called "Corner Piece."  I would have called it "Spilled Paint," but that's just me.  There are some nice colors in some of this show's offerings, but I can't say they're really worth a trip to the Hirshhorn.

Verdict: You can safely skip this; there's nothing here that I'd run back to see.

On the other hand, there is something worth seeing on the Hirshhorn's lower level.  The latest installment in the Directions series is by Jeremy Deller and it's called "English Magic."  It's billed as being a commentary on quirky Englishness, and since Englishness is pretty quirky, there's plenty to comment on.  The background is a steel orchestra providing music, but the scene morphs to birds of prey, cars being crushed by huge machines (whose movements mimic those of the birds), an inflatable Stonehenge and a parade.

Verdict: It's bizarre, but it's fun.  Come for the music, stay for the inflatable Stonehenge - why don't I have one of those in my back yard...

As Monty Python used to say, "and now for something completely different."  "Los Encargados" which translates to "Those in Charge" is by Santiago Sierra and Jorge Galindo.  It's the latest in the Black Box series.  It's a video of several black Mercedes-Benz automobiles making their way down a busy street in Madrid.  Atop each car is a gigantic portrait of one of Spain's leaders.  Did I mention the portraits are upside-down?  I also noticed that the lettering in the shop windows you see as the cars pass is in mirror image.  Sometimes the video turns upside-down itself, so the portraits appear right-side up.  The music for this is a Polish workers' anthem from the early 1900s - frankly, it sounded like the theme song for the Politburo.

Verdict: Okay, it's odd, but it's clearly making a point.  I think if I knew more about recent Spanish political history, I would have gotten more out of it.  Still, it's worth a look.

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