Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Santa Monica Museum of Art

EXHIBITION TITLE: Al Taylor: Wire Instruments and Pet Stains

Project Room: The Donkey Show

Project Room: Daniel Cummings: Recent paintings

LOCATION: Santa Monica Museum of Art

DATES: January 21 – April 16, 2011

CURATOR: Information not available

Formerly located on Main Street, the Santa Monica Museum of Art is now currently located at Bergamot Station (in the Westside of Los Angeles), nestled amongst other similar spaces making it a part of Southern California’s largest art gallery and cultural complex. The museum prides itself as a risk-taking, non-collecting museum. The programming is focused on emerging and established artists and is intended to spotlight “untold stories and pivotal moments in the history of contemporary art and culture” within “diverse aesthetic, cultural and ideological perspectives”.

Among first entering the museum one is greeted by an unrestrained souvenir–style shop. The items contrast from catalogs and books, to varying pop-culture and kitsch souvenirs. This is quite an asset if one has to force family members and friends to join you whom are not particularly interested in art and culture. There are three galleries in the building, one large gallery and two small “project rooms”.

Upon entering the largest gallery, I am consumed by lines and negative space in a very unique minimalist perspective. I see on the wall text that the artist is Al Taylor. The late Al Taylor (1949-1999) was a former studio assistant to Robert Rauschenberg. This particular exhibition features two bodies of work, wire instruments (1989-1990) and Pet Stains (1989-1992).

The work is fascinating and at once engaging. There are spatial works on the floor and pictorial paintings and drawings throughout. At first glance one does not notice any obvious relationships within the spatial and pictorial works, that is until one pays much closer attention to the lines. It then becomes apparent that the lines in the sculptures and the lines on the paintings have a unique mimicking attribute to them. It is unsure if Al Taylor transcribed the lines of his paintings into his sculptures or if he associated the lines of his sculpture into the flat dimension of paper. It is at this moment that I have come to realize that they are one in the same and that the sculptures and the paintings in direct proximity have an integral relationship with each other.

I find that Al Taylor did not have any profound distinction between the three-dimensional architecture and the two-dimensional drawing; they are one in the same. They are true studies of line and space manufactured with a unique parcel of material. The spatial works were constructed with wood, plastic and wire and the drawings consisted of ink, pencil, gouache, toner and paint.

A particular painting that stands out in my mind “Untitled (Puddles)” 1990, made with pencil, ink, xerographic toner and solvent on paper. It is quite a large painting with a series of circular objects across a rectilinear picture plane. Although they did not remind me of puddles or shapes of pet urine stains, the work did envision a scene for me of a landscape of waterfalls pouring on to one another within the ephemeral negative space prominent in his paintings. Many of his works assume a receding feeling of atmospheric perspective similar to many traditional Chinese paintings. Like the emotional content conveyed from traditional Chinese paintings, I also received that same calm, and serene feeling from Al Taylor’s work.

Noticing the relationship between the spatial and the pictorial works, I find that this is an integral part of the viewing experience which will allow the viewer a deeper understanding of the process and forethought of Al Taylor’s work. The overall installation was successful and the atmosphere and mood was indicative of the work shown.

This was my first time viewing Al Taylor’s work and although I do not have a keen aesthetic for such minimalism and abstraction, I did enjoy Al Taylor’s exhibition as well as the paintings with the urine stains tagged with the various names of the pets’ that made them. Overall this made an interesting juxtaposition of scenery in relationship to the various other installations in the busy and gallery-filled expanse of Bergamot Station.

As I made my way forward to the next gallery I found a wonderful display of vintage pictures and period memorabilia, which was the basis for the second, exhibit “The Donkey Show”.

The Donkey show is a light-hearted look at the history of the donkey- painted-as-zebra souvenir photographs so famous in the Mexican border town of Tijuana. At once a little snicker came from my mouth and a crack of a smile entered my lips because I too have seen those very donkeys’, which were spray-painted with black stripes to look like a zebra. After browsing more of the vintage pictures my smile faded into unease as I realized that this discomforting tradition has been happening to the donkey for a long time. The adult-natured, fun and witty slogans on the tourists’ sombreros did not seem so fun and witty for me anymore. Slogans such as “jack-ass”, “drunk-amigo”, and “Cisco-kid” were a few of the more light-hearted sayings. Asides the souvenir-turned-documentary photographs of the donkey-zebras it was interesting to see the advertising artwork of the flyers, vinyl record covers and other material from Tijuana Mexico from the 1950’s. At the time, these artifacts were a commodity in which this exhibition has transformed them in to true kitsch at it’s highest.

The final gallery housed several paintings by an artist named Daniel Cummings. Daniel Cummings execution lacked the energy, complexity and rhythm expected of such work and was for a lack of better words quite “obvious”. His color palette was monotonous and lacked the emotional gravity I would compare to others of that genre such as Franz Kline and Hans Hofmann. I did not quite grasp the relationship of the three utterly unrelated shows sharing the same context, time and space; however, upon reading the mission statement of the institution I do understand the programming and the reason why these shows happen to be shown in conjunction with each other. It seemed as if the grouping was random and there was no curatorial forethought involved although it does meet with the curatorial goal of providing a type of programming which oversees the needs for many facets of the community. The Donkey Show and the Daniel Cummings paintings were an interesting look into the past as well as a possible look into the future and the survey of Al Taylor and his bodies of work: Wire Instruments and Pet Stains was a fantastic journey into the relationships of space and time.

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