Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Less is More...or Less

Marcel Duchamp was one of their influences. Herb and Dorothy Vogel were champions and collectors of their art. Their work continues to maintain a strong presence in prominent private and museum collections. But after many years of art immersion, I still struggle to appreciate them. I'm talking about Minimalist and Conceptual artists. Or rather, their art.

In an ongoing effort to determine whether or not I am simply just a Minimal/Conceptual Art Philistine (and to once again try to rid myself of The Emperor's New Clothes refrain that accompanies me when I look at much of the art that falls into these categories), I recently visited the Museum of Contemporary Art to see the exhibition The Language of Less (Then and Now). I liked that the show's theme required the curators to dig deep into the museum's collection to highlight the work of Minimalist artists such as Donald Judd, Sol LeWitt, and Richard Serra. The work of a newer generation of artists who have been inspired by these men was juxtaposed in a way that mostly made sense, although I think the author of the wall text struggled at times to strengthen these somewhat tenuous connections. I noticed at least four separate groups of people being guided through the exhibition by a docent/teacher who attempted to explain the thought processes behind the art. Some observers appeared puzzled, others bored, while still others played with their iPhones. I was reminded of one of the last scenes in Olivier Assayas' haunting film Summer Hours (2008) in which this very theme, among others, was addressed beautifully. In other words, how does this art speak to us now? What does it say and to whom?

A recent viewing of the excellent nine-part BBC series, Art of the Western World, really got me thinking that I may have been irrevocably seduced by the colors, forms, subject matter, -isms, as well as the artists' lives and talent of "traditional" Western Art of the past 2,500 years. I appreciated esteemed art critic and theorist Rosalind Krauss' explanations of Minimalist, Pop, and Conceptual Art, but she merely highlighted the problem I have with some of the art from those movements. The narrator of the program wondered where art was headed and in the last episode of this 1989 series, suggested that it was headed back to nature (e.g. Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty) much as they had initially done thousands of years ago when our ancestors used caves as their canvas. But I have yet to see contemporary examples of such inspired work in our times. I am waiting.