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Hello, new venue: installation view of Wrestle.

Disconnect and Reconnect

By Nadine Wasserman

Graduate Thesis Exhibitions

Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College, through March 25


Hessel Museum of Art, Bard College, through May 27

Contemporary art often is challenging. However, the more you see of it, the less confounding it becomes. Fortunately, for people in the Capital Region, within an hour’s drive are some incredible institutions for experiencing interesting and cutting-edge work. Bard’s Center for Curatorial Studies (CCS) is among the best. It is particularly worthwhile to go right now when you can catch both Wrestle, the inaugural exhibition in the recently added Hessel Museum of Art, and the master’s thesis exhibitions by newly emerging curators. The current thesis exhibitions are Now You See It, curated by Ryan Doherty; Temporarily Disconnected, curated by Ruba Katrib; We Love Cinema, curated by Özkan Cangüven; and Affinities: Painting in Abstraction, curated by Kate Meehan McNamara. This set (which will end on March 25) will be followed by two more sets of exhibitions over the next several weeks.

Nurtured by the A-list faculty for the CCS program, the thesis exhibitions are generally well-conceived and sophisticated. Unfortunately, this round of exhibitions was not as interesting as some have been in the past. There was far too much emphasis on film and video, and one would have to spend more than three and a half hours just to view all of it. There is no doubt that film and video are important mediums in contemporary art, but in two of the shows there was little effort to contain the audio, and the effect was overstimulating. It was often difficult to focus on any one piece. Since the soundtracks were bleeding into one another, it was often impossible to hear some of the work, even when standing or sitting right in front of a monitor. Temporarily Disconnected and We Love Cinema were both ambitious in theme but suffered from being completely video-based and poorly designed. The works included were all interesting, but were not easily experienced given the aural and visual assault.

After the noise of the previous exhibitions it was actually a relief to enter into the painting exhibition where there was space to contemplate static objects. Affinities: Painting in Abstraction was a modest show that contained work by several compelling contemporary painters, two of whom are faculty of the Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts at Bard. Of note were Suzanne McClelland’s Soft Partition, a large wall piece made of velvet, linen, satin, ribbon and acrylic paint, and three of her smaller works on canvas and linen. McClelland explores the play between words and the visual, and she uses unconventional materials and techniques. Laurel Sparks also uses unconventional materials, such as glitter and marble dust, to create complex compositions that are both witty and grotesque. Rebecca Morris’ paintings in oil and spray paint take the language of abstraction and give it a physicality that is at once reductive and elaborate. In her work, she pays tribute to abstraction while simultaneously critiquing it. The fact that this exhibition was made up of work by eight women painters was never mentioned in the curator’s statement. While we may be in a post-post-postfeminist moment, this fact does deserve at least a brief mention. It would certainly not detract from the power of the work on display and it would show that the curator is aware of the context within which these women work. It would also show that the curator is aware that there is a current trend toward feminist exhibitions such as Los Angeles’ MoCA’s WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution that acknowledge the contributions of a generation of women artists who made it possible for female artists to begin to move into the mainstream of the visual arts.

Now You See It was the most successful at displaying video work so that each piece could be experienced without too much interference. For Zoe Beloff’s The Ideoplastic Materializations of Eva. C., the viewer dons 3-D glasses and enters a separate darkened room to experience a surround-sound installation depicting reenactments of 10 séances conducted by a French medium between 1904 and 1913. Jennifer Bornstein’s humorous and lyrical 16mm films run through an old-fashioned projector and explore extraordinary phenomena such as 14-leaf clovers, UFOs, and plant communications. Susan Hiller’s Magic Lantern uses three slide projectors and an audio track to explore what may lie beneath and between our perceptions of reality. Hiller was inspired by the experimental recordings of a Latvian scientist named Konstantin Randive, who believed he could capture the voices of the dead on tape. In this piece, slides of overlapping colored circles create a retinal after-image that parallels the effect of the sound recording. Given photography’s role since the turn of the last century in providing “proof” of the supernatural, this exhibition cleverly uses works by artists who employ outmoded photographic technologies to explore both perception and our fascination with the paranormal.

Across the entryway from the master’s thesis exhibitions is the new 17,000-square-foot Hessel Museum of Art. Wrestle, the inaugural exhibition, draws from the more than 1,700 pieces in the Marieluise Hessel collection and includes a selection of more than 150 works that present what the curators call “suggestive juxtapositions.” To visitors who have never been to CCS, the caliber of the collection will be readily apparent when you walk through the door to the Hessel Museum and step onto the Do-Ho Suh work imbedded in the floor. Don’t forget to pick up a gallery guide at the front desk if you are a novice in contemporary art. It is extremely helpful, as are the guards at the entrance and throughout the galleries. And don’t forget to take a lollipop from the Felix Gonzalez-Torres piece. You’ll have to wait to eat it until you exit the galleries, but be advised that the white ones taste the best.


-no peripheral vision this week-


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