Tuesday, May 17, 2011

MOCA, Dialogue and Curation

While traveling to various museums in the Los Angeles area with Hanru’ s class, I was vitally aware of the cultural potential of museums, the need for interpretation and learning and the appeal of some institutions being open for longer than a few days a week. While visiting such locations as the Hammer Museum, LACMA, MOCA or the Jurassic Technology Museum reminded me of the importance of existing exhibitions – and the need for specific exhibitions- as they often define the heart of the museum.

Exhibitions have a unique ability to reveal and conceal the faults of an institution – and a great show has the ability to leave a prestigious mark. Author and exhibitor Kathleen McLean writes that “ exhibitions show things, whether a work of art or a working machine, a history timeline or a bit of bone. The form of exhibition is the one feature common to all museums, from institutions engaged in scholarly research for a small professional audience to a large multidisciplinary organizations providing services for the broadest spectrum of people.” And as graduate students who traveled from a new destination and dialogue to another, a conversation of curration and presentation began to construct itself within our three days: curation of exhibitions defines the soul of an artistic space and if done wrong, it exposes a lack of dialogue within an institution.

The lack of dialogue in certain institutions was evident and the class was given additional curatorial information by curators and artistic directors of the institutions that was not public knowledge. This was a grand treat. At various institutions that shall remain nameless, MOCA was highly criticized for lacking a general direction in their curatorial and exhibition departments. Comments were made which insinuated a lack of creativity and overall talent, however, having scheduled our group visit to MOCA on the last day of the trip, I was unable to neither agree nor disagree with this contention until I had witnessed it for myself. Having said that, I was unable to shake a curiosity about the MOCA and upon meeting its curator, Alma Ruiz, and touring MOCA at the Geffen Contemporary, I was finally able to understand the whispers, and concerns of its large and small contemporaries.

With five curators planning and designing shows at the Geffen center one begins to wonder which curator was able to strong arm the other in order to gain the upper hand in its design and conception. Comprising of five pieces created by 6 artists, the Geffen center is exhibiting Suprasensorial: Experiments in Light, Color, and Space" a show predominantly showing Latin American artists and curated by Latina Alma Ruiz, MOCA curator and the concept creator of the exhibit. Shown are pieces from Carlos Cruz-Diez, Julio Le Parc and Jesús Rafael Soto, Lucio Fontana and a group piece from occasional working partners Hélio Oiticica and Neville D'Almeida. The work exhibited reflects primarily on the notions of light and space – and with five extremely large pieces from larger than life artists – the Geffen MOCA is able to exhibit the growing popularity of these Latin American artists within the contemporary field. However, how does this new exhibit define the soul and definition of the institution it exhibits, except for the seemingly gimmicky pool chosen as an exhibit and one, which lacks all connection to the other pieces? While the goal of the show may have been to “ lodge an expansion of perceptual consciousness within those who encountered it” the scale of the pieces were far too sparse to act as a conduit of its artistic functions.

Lucio Fontana’ s piece looked like a signature caught it mid-air. It was the epitome of postwar three-dimensional art – compared by the Los Angeles Times critic Christopher Knight to Pollock’ s drip paintings. Soto’ s plastic rubber tubing allowed for the visitor to engage in the piece and become part of the motion. Le Parc’ s play on light and texture with the use of mirrors and a projector was oddly placed and the set of all five pieces lacked any obvious direction for the visitor, but always began at the first piece, Fontana’ s light sculpture. Oiticica and D'Almeida’ s piece was a combination of a swimming pool and slide show. Allowing the visitor to dive into the pleasure principle of life: leisure (and cocaine). The set up of the entire show failed to utilize the imagination of the visitor irregardless of the books and information available on near by stylish tables artfully lighted by lamps and video installations exhibiting information about the artists. I walked in thinking it was another installation only to realize that it was an information center.

By Isabella Shirinyan

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