October, 2008, Index, Conceptualism in California from the Permanent Collection @Temporary Contemporary at Geffen MoCA
Mathias Poledna, Actualite, 2001
When seeing a show on Conceptual Art, especially this show, bring a friend. A designated driver, in a sense, is definitely needed here. The many branches of this genre are displayed here, sometimes confusing but mostly confronting. “Index” is a show with multiple personalities, with every voice in its head talking all at the same time. It swings from the dry and mundane to literalized Institutional Critique, always maintaining a strict line of humor and irony.
Frances Stark’s “Structure That F(its My Opening)”, Allen Ruppersburg’s “The Fairy Godmother”, and the queen of Institutional Critique Andrea Fraser makes an appearance with “Little Frank and His Carp” of 2001, all of which are hilarious additions to this show.
Each of these pieces reminds us that Conceptual Art shouldn’t be so serious, that a critique doesn’t need to be negative or heavy handed. Fraser goes on an audio tour of the Guggenheim Bilbao, one narrated by Frank Gehry who through his descriptions of his architecture turns Fraser on sexually. She, at his voice’s direction, begins to feel up the walls of the foyer and then herself at the delight of fellow patrons of the museum. When watching this video, I’d suggest paying close attention to her facial expressions in reaction to Gehry’s words, if you can.
Fraser goes through a full range of emotions, from frightened when he mentions “trapped” and “no escape” to delight when asked by him to touch the walls. Who would’ve thought an official audio tour could be sexy, only when literalized by Fraser she reveals much of her self and how it could be misheard. I would call this the first art work you’ll see when entering the show, depending how you travel through the show it could easily be the last, but I think it should be both first and last.
The installation of the show requires a bit of patience getting through pieces displayed that felt like they were required to somehow validate the lengthy history of Conceptual art.
If you can make it all the way to the furthest wall, you’ll hear some rock n’ roll playing in a darkened room. Here you’ve come upon Mathias Poledna’s “Actualite” of 2001, featuring Jenny Lewis and Blake Sennet of Rilo Kiley, seemingly rehearsing a song. The video loops and one is never sure where the beginning was, a stark distinction from a better known video by Matt Stokes, his “Long After Tonight”, not in this show, is much more chronological with a clear beginning and end.
But both videos are not real, they feel real undoubtedly, but are great recreations of real instances in a time warp. Created way too late about possible past events, set then but filmed now. In “Actualite” the illusion is very strong until once the drummer looks at the camera when she’s smoking, and becomes self-conscious that she broke the illusion. You see that “Damn, camera caught me looking at it!” expression on her face.
Bruce Connor’s “Eye-Ray Forever” is also featured in the exhibition, although it is at quite a distance from the other themes represented, it somehow fits overall. Greil Marcus talks about Connor’s film work in his novel “The Shape of Things to Come” and I think the following is a great summation of what this show was going for ideologically, Marcus says, “-that it seems not only still present but in the future, a promise that what is truly American will never change, that the future will most of all resemble the past.”.
Conceptual Art, I believe, would agree and subscribe to this line of thought, which their lineage is clear yet allowed to be jarring and inconsistent from the family tree. Overall “Index” is a strange assortment of works where the few outweigh the many that “needed” to be displayed.
September 6th, 2008
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Dennis Matthews is an writer, painter and art historian that went to school on the East Coast and got his Master's degree from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. firstname.lastname@example.org