Sunday, June 16, 2013

Illusion at the Art Museum

Again I returned to a contemporary art exhibition but this time I found it accessible on different levels.  Maybe that had something to do with the fact that I went back 4 times and each time something else became apparent though it did not always leave a positive impression! .  I also read a couple of reviews but both were written in the vernacular of contemporary artspeak and I am happy to say they have absolutely no influence on what I am writing about, an exhibition of 16 works by Peter Sarkisian which opened at the New Mexico Museum of Art recently and runs through August 18th.

Peter Sarkisian was born in 1965 in Glendale, California.  He is a video artist who now lives and works in Santa Fe.  He has exhibited all over the country and his work can be found in the permanent collections of museums from the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

The New Mexico Museum of Art is the last venue for his traveling exhibition that has been on the road since 2010.  It represents video works from 1994 to 2011.  It is difficult for me to come to terms with because I enjoy many pieces in the show, though I am not sure I would not tire of some and they might seem like just a parlor trick after a while.

Then again I find a few works disturbing.  Does this make them more important that they have an effect on me… so does a gory movie and that can or cannot be considered art.  For instance there are two pieces that combine real objects with videos.  In  “Cup ‘a Joe”  2011 you are looking into a cup of what looks to me like Ovaltine and there is a corpse doing the dead man’s float in the cup.  Along side is a real bar check with 5 pennies, ostensibly as a tip.  In “White Water” 1999, a bowl contains what looks like a nude woman floating in milk.  She twists around exposing her breasts when she comes to the surface on her back.  If it was a bubble bath it might be sexy but this definitely is not.  The artist is leaving it all to our imagination.

Later in the show is by far the largest piece and the one that causes the most tension.  It  is a full scale fiberglass replica of a yellow Ferrari car frame and you see its smashed windows and a crazed driver (the artist) swerving this way and that through a surrealistic town.  When he does a sharp enough turn, like when he is avoiding a police car you will see the body of a gaunt man (his father) swing up into view from the back seat and fall back down again when the car is on a more steady plane.  It is a surrealistic world and maybe that is what Sarkisian’s world boils down to, surrealistic illusion.   For me it evokes Salvador Dali’s “Persistence of Memory” in the Museum of Modern Art in New York.  It shows clocks bent over objects.  Are we revisiting surrealism through video?  It certainly allows for many more opportunities to play with the viewers mind.

There are some fun objects such as the pencil that seems to float up and down and the man who crawls out of the turned over ink bottle and slides his body across the surface until he makes it to a real spiral note pad where he lies obviously exhausted until he fades away into the paper.  The next time he comes out of a different side of the flowing ink.

The museum is in the process of acquiring a very colorful work, “Extruded Video Engine, Large Shape 1, Version 3” 2007 that seemed to me as if I was looking into the workings of a pinball machine.  The clanging and rings are all there magnified many times.  In fact, throughout the exhibition there is the cacophony of noise bleed. 

A mercifully quiet one is also my favorite piece in the show.   “Book 1” 2011, is a projected dictionary with a man in blue shirt and khakis (the artist) crawling out of the binding of the thick book and moving around the page writing his commentary in bold print, “CHECH (sic) SPELLING”, “NO”, “BLAH, BLAH BLAH”, etc. .  When he is done he turns the page.  One of his comments is, “WHO CARES”.  It was humorous and also keeps one thinking.  How often have you read a book or article and thought the same thing, “WHO CARES”?


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