Monday, May 2, 2011

MoMA New York: Contemporary Art from the Collection - look at Huma Bhabha and Y.O.

EXHIBITION TITLE: Contemporary Art from the Collection


DATES: June 30, 2010 – May 9, 2011

CURATOR: Christophe Cherix

Christophe Cherix is the curator for the exhibition “Contemporary Art from the Collection” currently at view in the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Mr. Cherix is also is the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Chief Curator of Prints and Illustrated Books at The Museum of Modern Art. Being a native of Switzerland, Mr. Cherix received a License ès lettres from the University of Geneva.

As the curator, Cristophe Cherix assembled these particular works to invoke discourse and debate in regards to topics such as ethnicity, gender, economics and politics all of which pervaded every facet of artistic production since the 1960s. The exhibition’s installation moves in a chronological order dating the artwork from the 1960’s to as late as 2007. A variety of mediums are highlighted from all of the museum’s curatorial departments which are exemplified in approximately 130 works of art.

Huma Bhaba’s is an artist born in Karachi, Pakistan. Ms. Bhabha currently lives and works in Poughkeepsie, New York. She has a series of etchings in the exhibition called “Reconstructions” which particularly moved me. Seven etchings were hung in a row varying from 29 1/2 x 36 5/8" (75 x 93 cm) or 25 x 34" (63.5 x 86.4 cm). They were particularly startling yet beautiful images merging a line between the photographic and stylized hand rendering coupled with the technical aspects of the printmaking medium.

Visiting Pakistan every year, Huma Bhabha was inspired in the city of Karachi for this particular body of work. Huma Bhabha stated in an interview with MoMA that the city of Karachi is under constant construction and one can see many unfinished foundations all over the city. She imagines the foundations being re-born, rising as a phoenix from the ruins of war and environmental destruction. (From the MoMA Audio Program excerpt Contemporary Art from the Collection, June 30, 2010–May 9, 2011)

The beautiful etchings Huma Bhabha created go through a timely process from idea to fruition to form a finished image of social significance. She first collects discarded materials and fashions them in to figures; eroded, distressed and burnt out. She then juxtapositions them within photographic images of the varying foundations found in Karachi, Pakistan. Huma Bhabha then draws on them with India ink then applies the image through the etching process, printing them in black ink at its final stage.

Huma Bhabha’s images play a significant role in the debate and discourse concerning war, ethnicity, and politics. Her work seems to create this environment of anti-spectacle in which the viewer is compelled to make the pilgrimage mentally to discover the aura, the backstory in which the images describe. “Yes they are beautiful and profound, yet they are telling me something.” That is the strength of this body of work; it compels the viewer to seek the story of her native country of Pakistan. Huma Bhabha’s etchings live in a strange world of materiality on paper yet ephemeral from the photograph of the foundation which has no existence anymore.

While contemplating Huma Bhabha’s work I continued to walk through the exhibition in the museum. Suddenly, I was pleased and excited to come across an unintentional discovery. In every gallery I discovered small little phrases written in ink on the walls and also one on heavy cardboard glued to the floor. This “hunt” for all of the little interventions around the many galleries in the exhibition was fun for me and yet reminded me also of the truly contemporary nature of many of the art works which surrounded me. There where quotes such as: “Have the courage to tell him you love him”, “envision spring”, “smell the summer”, etc. They were all signed Y.O. I can only assume that they were made by Yoko Ono because her work was in the exhibition also. This intervention was an interesting display of how “Y.O.” affected the landscape of the institution. She posed questions of space versus production, ephemera and documentation. I was compelled by the relational aesthetic of the art directing the viewer as a participant to “hunt out” these small, little, personal treasures written by the hand of the artist. I found it also interesting that many people walked by without noticing even one. The aura created from the personal aspects of these messages connect the viewer to a more intimate relationship with the artist. This relationship creates a back-story for those who have not seen them to make the pilgrimage to the museum as well as a personal invitation for those who have to return.

MoMA, New York has treated us with sharing a portion of its collection through the exhibition “Contemporary Art from the Collection”. I would recommend taking the time to catch this show before it ends in May. Huma Bhabha’s series of etchings are complex and beautiful and asks the viewer to notice and contemplate the state of affairs in Karachi, Pakistan and its people. Although influenced by Pakistan, for me, Bhabha’s work represents imagery of our contemporary global stance and how America influences the rest of the world and its people. Many Americans understand the world and its issues through media and biased news coverage. The general American may not know what life is like in other countries let alone see the world through the eyes of others living in the disparage of war or a post-war situation. The reality may be hard to fathom for most. Interestingly however, it seems many American’s have an opinion on the matter regardless of their knowledge and experience with world affairs. In retrospect, that is the reason why this body of work is so important to me. Being a veteran of the first Gulf War, through Huma Bhabha’s work I see the influence of a wartime and post-war scenario. I see the destruction and the pain; however, I also see the determination of a people and an inspiration and imagination for growth and the rebuilding of a future which is more positive than the period of earlier circumstances which were more difficult and costly to their country and its people. I see creativity, optimism and realization; that is what moves me most about this body of work. I hope others who do not have the experience of war, other cultures and their difficult experiences with war and conflict can somehow understand through this work the difficulty of war and the difficulty of re-growth after a war and America’s positive, as well as negative impact on the world and its people.

In regards to the tiny interventions on the walls and floor by “Y.O.”, they serve as a constant reminder of the contemporary aspect of the exhibition throughout the chronology of the works involved. However, these interventions pose questions which have been debated at length and have cost municipalities millions of dollars in precious city funds for a very long time. That is the question of graffiti. There are examples of graffiti on walls since the time of the Egyptians. Graffiti has been used to express dissent with a government, a form of creative expression, as well as the simple markings of territory for gangs. One thing they have in common nevertheless is the simple fact that someone has to pay money to clean it up. It may be art but it is on another person’s property that may have not consented to such an intervention. As I stated, this debate has been going on for a very long time and I am not here to participate in that debate or provide answers. I am just curious what the social implications are for galleries and institutions in the future for sharing such interventions as art, especially when children and adolescents view such interventions at institutions whether they be real, documented or praised with historical and cultural relevance.

Orlando Lacro

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