Art Review: Yayoi Kusama’s “Dots Obsession — Alive, Seeking for Eternal Hope,” Philip Johnson Glass House, New Canaan, CT

I had the fortune of visiting the Philip Johnson Glass House in New Canaan, CT during the three-week installment of Yayoi Kusama’s Dots Obsession — Alive, Seeking for Eternal Hope. I can report that it was a joyful and resounding collision of seemingly unassociated iconic styles. Betwixt her own Narcissus Garden and Pumpkin, Kusama’s newest Infinity Room rounds out the three works celebrating the 10th anniversary of The Glass House since it opened to the public. It is also the first time an artist has interacted with the architecture itself as the canvas.

I wonder what the late Philip Johnson and his partner, David Whitney, would have thought about the addition of the red dots. As an idea, it’s almost absurd. But, in some certain sense, that’s exactly what makes it perfect. On any given day without the dots, the inescapable, overarching theme of The Glass House and its grounds is the tension between nature and the man-made. The repeating geometry of the organic, rounded edges of the leaves in the trees intervene with the sharp corners of the house but marry with the curve of the internal column of the building.

yayoi-kusama-glass-house-blue-print

I had almost expected the dots to be more arresting. The absurdity of it in its abstraction, for me, was fueled by my fear that it would distract from not only the natural world but the physical structure. Looking out over the pastoral, sloped landscape I notice the interplay of stone fences with commercial concrete structures; I feel how carefully choreographed each view is, and I know that Johnson and Whitney would have embraced Kusama.

There is an incredible sense of art world sanctity at 877 Ponus Ridge Road. The stories–whether or not you choose to believe them–of Andy Warhol putting out his cigarette on a Barcelona Chair one night or of Frank Lloyd Wright repositioning Elie Nadelman’s papier-mâché maquette of Two Circus Women, fill the space with the sense that culture and taste as we know it today were conceived, drenched in martinis, right there.


Dots Obsession — Alive, Seeking For Eternal Hope is on view until September 26, though unfortunately tickets for the Infinity Room tour seem to be completely sold out.
Narcissus Garden and Pumpkin will remain on view through November 30.

Featured Image Credit: Matthew Palacek

Yayoi Kusama x @pjglasshouse #theglasshousedotsobsession #infinityroom

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Art Review: Heather Nichol’s “Soft Spin,” Brookfield Place, NYC

I have a passion for public art. The city, especially, creates a powerful canvas for imagination and art. Living in NYC for the past few years, I have both intentionally and unintentionally participated in a lot of public art (I would argue that most of life lived here is participation in public art–what with the sheer amount of architecture and human interaction–but that’s another thought that I will save for another day). Suffice it to say, I constantly find myself in the presence of beauty and inspiration, and that is one of the major reasons that brought me here and that aids my endurance of this frenetic city lifestyle.

Heather Nichol, a Toronto-based artist and curator, is showing a site-specific sound and sculptural installation, Soft Spin, in The Winter Garden at the Brookfield Place New York in Lower Manhattan. Nichol’s installation challenges the everyday idea of the “sculpture.” These soft, rotating skirts-resembling-flowers paired with sound are sensual and sharp all at the same time. I was not a huge fan of the vocals. I would have liked to meditate under these flowers, and my thoughts were distracted and directed elsewhere. Since the expansive space amplifies the ambient noise of the bustling Brookfield Place already, I would have been challenged to meet my mindfulness, anyhow. Nonetheless, I rationalized the vocals as, at the very least, intentional (a quality I quite admire in an art piece and person).

This piece brings to mind the artist Janet Echelman‘s 2011 Ted Talk, entitled “Taking Imagination Seriously” (video below). Echelman centers her talk on explaining how she came to her current success with unorthodox city sculptures by way of a “failure” in her pursuit of painting. What I find fascinating about both Nichol and Echelman is that they had the ability to take something ordinary and transcend the original meaning of the given objects and spaces.

Both artists bring to cities what we all hope to do in our everyday lives. These undulating art pieces move and shape-shift with the wind. There are wonderful meanings that can be made from a more interactive, fluid art form. They become part of the environment. They change with our moods and with our attitudes. The space is illuminated by imagination, and I’m grateful for having participated in this study.

The New York Times recently reviewed the Brookfield Place and the surrounding neighborhood of Battery Park city, calling it “revitalized,” elevated to a “dynamic destination.” Paola Singer attributed this to the influx of high dining, but I’d like to add that it’s also the art. As I scoured the web for images of Soft Spin, I noticed a trend. Many young mothers (instagram: thebabybumpdiaries and monicastorch), indigenous inhabitants of this neighborhood, have been early evangelists of this art. This is what I’m talkin’ about! What is so lovely about public art is that it is for everyone–not just the hoity-toity traders who need a cultural outlet for their funds.

I also love that kids are interacting with art. Artists deeply seek to leave a legacy, and I think that one of the most fascinating and important audiences is the child. I grew up watching Sesame Street’s “Don’t Eat the Pictures” (which you can watch on YouTube). As an anecdote: when we were children, my parents took us to the Metropolitan Museum of Art often. On a particular trip, my younger brother (at age 5) strode up to a still life and, after regarding it for a moment, correctly identified it as a Cézanne. Parents, you won this one.

All in all, I feel strongly that the space is worthy of the sculpture. Bravo, Brookfield Place and Heather Nichol. I hope to see more inspiration in The Winter Garden as this space and neighborhood take new shape.

Art Review: “Modern Photographs: The Thomas Walther Collection, 1909-1949,” MoMA

I spent yesterday with my father meandering about the MoMA and there are some incredible things showing right now. I used to hate the MoMA as a child. I know, I was superbly petulant. I still have a slight visceral reaction even upon entering the lobby. It’s crowded and loud and I didn’t always appreciate art. My family is very intimidating intellectual, and as a child I sometimes let my self-consciousness trump my curiosity. It wasn’t until I impulsively applied to the Sotheby’s Institute of Art in London (the impetus being a boy) and actually had to eat my actions and go, that I learned this love.

I went immediately to the Thomas Walther Photography Collection (“Modern Photographs: The Thomas Walther Collection, 1909-1949”), showing through April 19, 2015. Karen Rosenberg for the New York Times called this show “Black and White and Accessible All Over,” and I want to hate how that’s articulated, but I agree.

Photography is an interesting animal of the art world. “The question of whether photography ought to be considered fine art was hotly contested from its invention in 1839 into the twentieth century” (exhibition notes, MoMa). This debate still stands, and is sadly reflected in the average prices photographs can command at market. There are, I grant you, artists that transcend this standard and have pioneered in terms of prices. Andreas Gursky (b. 1955) holds the title for the most expensive photograph sold on the market with his Rhein II (1999). This was at Christie’s in November of 2011, and at USD $4,338,500, the price is still pretty paltry compared to other art forms.

To say I am passionate about photography is an understatement. Although only a hobbyist, myself, I am a dedicated collector and connoisseur. I trained in Paris alongside some intensely talented peers. However, my heart wasn’t in it. Let’s just say that I render the extent of my experience as having a good lens, but no focus.

But let’s get back to the art of the matter. The show was curated carefully (by Quentin Bajac and Sarah Hermanson Meister), and there is an extensive and impressive online catalog/map/comparison tool that is a wonderful resource. I am fascinated by the way cultural institutions have integrated into digital. It’s funny. Some of the works online are in higher resolution than the originals. I do still suggest that you get your ass to the exhibition, in person. Although this digital integration is necessary and beautiful, I believe in the power and purity of committing your person to the experience as a whole, and the meanings you can make from the moment.

One of the more powerful pieces was Joris Ivens’ short film entitled “Rain” (full video below). I wasn’t acquainted with his work, but I watched the whole way through. I asked my father, “What is it about this work that commands our attention so thoroughly?” I’ve contemplated the power of the moving image, or video, at length recently, but in a different context. These days, the saying “content is king” is something you hear a lot in marketing. I spend a lot of time considering this. Recently, it seems, there has been a distinct emphasis on video content. Facebook gives you visible view counts strictly on videos, Ted rewards social shares with influence analytics.

I believe this all ties back to the accessibility factor. There is something scary in the static. It is bold and beautiful, but it is something outside of our experience. We are never stopped in time. Video, even cut and spliced at an artist’s whim that might, stylistically, lie outside of your aesthetic experience, is fluid where photography is fossilized.

Art Review: Paula Hayes “Gazing Globes,” Madison Square Park

One of the many reasons I love NYC is its potential for public art. This is exquisitely fulfilled by Paula Hayes‘ first outside exhibition in this city, Gazing GlobesOn view until April 19, 2015 in the “West Gravel” area of Madison Square Park, Hayes’ orbs stand on snow white pedestals like mutant techno-terrariums.

There is an element of found art that I really enjoy in this work. Noble & Webster come immediately to mind. These shadow sculptures epitomize found art, summed up by illuminated trash heaps to create the truly unexpected and incredible from the dingy and downright disgusting.

WASTED YOUTH, 2000  Trash, replica food, McDonalds packaging, wood

WASTED YOUTH, 2000
Trash, replica food, McDonalds packaging, wood (click through image to see more).

Hayes’ globes are divine rather than disgusting. The glass globes vary in size and are filled with an array of discarded technology such as “fairy dust” made of pulverized CDs. These crystal balls hold some magic, for me. They are simply mesmerizing and symbolize both a sense of whimsy and melancholy, simultaneously.

The truth of the matter is that there is trash everywhere and nobody recycles. There is nothing beautiful in that. Our poor planet is swathed in the refuse of generations of extravagance and irreverence for the environment.

Tirade aside, I highly suggest taking a walk over to the park and looking into these crystal balls. Perhaps you will learn something of your future, or elicit something from your past. And, if it is to snow tomorrow, I suspect it would be stunning to experience this art piece amidst a flurry.

© 2015 Claire King Photography

© 2015 Claire King Photography