Saturday, June 25, 2016
Welcome Back to the Third Floor
When: through August 6, 2016
I don't know exactly how long the third floor of the Hirshhorn has been closed for renovations, but it has now re-opened. I went to see their inaugural show, thinking that perhaps the exhibit spaces would be less sterile and off-putting. Only one guess as to whether my hopes were realized.
Of course, it's every bit as uninviting as it was before the renovation, although I have no doubt that whatever needed to be fixed was attended to. If you go expecting big changes in the look and feel of the place, you need to adjust those expectations.
So, given that the exhibit space looks just the same as it ever did, what about the show itself? Well, it's the Hirshhorn, so it's pretty much the same mishmash of awful things, mixed with a few items that are not terrible. How's that for a rousing recommendation?
As you enter the show, you are greeted by Big Man, an enormous sculpture of a naked man, crouching in a corner, looking at you with distaste. Not the most welcoming figure, but I suppose we might as well begin as we mean to go on. His expression is quite menacing if you view him from the side (his head is slightly turned, so he's looking at the viewer sideways), but rather less so if you view him straight on. Of course, then you have a view of his manly bits, which makes one feel a bit like a voyeur, so it's an uncomfortable piece no matter how you slice it.
Early on, you get an actual treat - a Thomas Struth photograph of people in a museum. I really love this idea, so am always happy to see one of this series. This particular shot is very clean and open and airy; I feel good just remembering it. I don't know if any of the Smithsonian museums or the National Gallery has had a show devoted to his work, but I wish they would.
Then we move on to a niche of de Kooning and Giacometti works. It's all so ugly and unsettling; I can't understand why anyone would want to look at this stuff, let alone own it. My response to it is to curl up in a ball, pull the covers over my head and think, "This too shall pass." Since I was in a public museum, I decided to forgo the acting out and scurry off to another room.
Reynier Leyva Novo, an artist heretofore unknown to me, was represented in the show with a piece entitled "5 Nights." Novo uses INk software to show the weight, volume and area of various texts. He had five different works on display - all of them big black squares. They were the works of dictators - Hitler was the largest by far. I'm not sure if that's a profound statement about how awful he was, even compared to other tyrants, or if it's just that he was more long-winded than the others. Either way, it's thought-provoking.
Then, what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a work by my old friend, Yves Klein. This is one of those pieces he made by getting women to come to his studio, get naked, roll around in paint and then press themselves against paper. I'll hand it to him, no one was better at conning women into taking their clothes off than old Yves, but don't ask me to call this art.
Verdict: I would go up to the third floor just to see the Struth photograph, but the rest of the stuff is pretty hit or miss. Mostly miss.