Monday, June 25, 2007

Full as a Guggenheim

I don't know why it's taken me this long in my life to discover the brutal truth that there is a subgenre of painting which focuses on the "dress monkey": posed portraits in which chimps are given respectable, often regal attire. I feel like such a failure.

This piece was painted by an elephant. I really like it. Elephant art mostly comes from Thailand, and supposedly helps raise funds to protect the 50,000 Asian elephants left on the planet. I don't know how the money is really disposed of, but it all sounds legit so far.

These three works were produced by artists in Washington's Art Enables program, which is "open to adults with developmental and/or mental disabilities who are enthusiastic about working toward becoming professional artists and who are willing and able to focus on their work for a full studio day."

They're all examples of Outsider Art, even though they're hugely different in most ways. I came across all of them while wandering around the net after doing a quiz somebody sent me entitled "Artist or 7-Year-Old?" and which allows you to guess whether a particular work is the product of an internationally reknowned artist attending the Venice Biennale or something made by a kid, or a convict, or a blind person, and so on.

The biggest arty thing in Melbourne right now is probably the new NGV/Guggenheim collaboration.

Meet Valerie Hillings: the critical eye behind the NGV's new blockbuster Guggenheim Collection: 1940s to Now. The exhibition is one of the largest modern art exhibitions ever to hit Melbourne.

"There's no model for this experience,'' says Hillings. "This particular configuration has never been shown in New York.''

The exhibition, which opens on Saturday, brings together some of the most influential and controversial art of the postwar period, from the pop art of Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein to the photography of Robert Mapplethorpe and Cindy Sherman.

There's a table covered in 14,000 human and animal teeth. There's a work which entirely consists of one sentence. There's even Michael Jackson and his chimp, Bubbles.

Hillings' appreciation of modern art did experience a brief hiccup when she heard about the Jackson sculpture, by US artist Paul McCarthy. "I thought 'this thing is so gross.' It's called Michael Jackson (F--ked Up). But the minute they were halfway through I the installation I thought 'this is a knock-out! I love it!'''

Hillings, who turned 36 on Friday, has an enthusiasm for art that explains her rapid rise. After applying for a small part-time position with the Guggenheim assisting her former professor, she received a call asking if she'd consider a different role, full time, complete with international travel and greater responsibility. At 33, she opened the largest show of Russian art in history, seen by a million patrons of the Guggenheim Museums in New York and Bilbao, Spain.Her relative youth isn't so rare in the Guggenheim world, though.

"The vast majority of my colleagues are in their 30s or early 40s. Guggenheim gives you a lot of opportunities early. If you work hard and long hours you can get a lot of experience really quickly."

Hillings says that her mission isn't to recreate the experience had by visitors to other Guggenheims. With works drawn from across the vast collection amassed by the foundation, Guggenheim Collection: 1940s to Now is partly a survey. The first half of the exhibition is a whirlwind tour through the history of modern art, from the abstract art of the postwar period through to minimalism and conceptual art. The exhibition's last four "chapters" are more curated, including sections such as "The Natural World" and "Between Private and Public".

Though she might be representing one of the world's most prestigious art institutions, she's been afforded a great deal of freedom in carrying out the job. "I have a whole section of the show that is very personal. In the Post-War European Abstraction we have a whole chapter on monochrome painting and optical and kinetic art, and that was the subject of my PhD thesis. In the United States that had been all but obliterated from the art history books."

The New York Guggenheim museum opened in 1939 as the Museum of Non-Objective Painting. It was housed in an automobile showroom. In 1959 it shifted to the iconic Frank Lloyd Wright-designed building it now inhabits. The Frank Gehry-designed Bilbao Guggenheim opened in 1997 and has been responsible for the economic revitalisation of the formerly ailing town.

The exhibition opens this week. I can't wait.


Anonymous said...

This is exciting. I like reading articles about art exhibits like this.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like an amazing exhibition! Wish I was there to see it...