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Inverted, literally: Manglano-Ovalle’s Gravity is a Force to be Reckoned With at MASS MoCA.

World Turned Upside Down

By Nadine Wasserman

Gravity is a Force to be Reckoned With

Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, Through Oct. 31

Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle: Juggernaut

Through March 14, Williams College Museum of Art

Along a Long Line

Through Feb. 21, Williams College Museum of Art

Blurring the boundary between inside and outside is a concept that has fascinated architects for decades. Perhaps the most iconic expression of this idea is the Farnsworth House designed by the architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. The Farnsworth House, with its outer walls made of glass, created a shelter that would reconnect its inhabitant with nature. Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle used the Farnsworth House as the site of his video work Le Baiser/The Kiss. It was the first of a trilogy that includes Climate and Alltagszeit (In Ordinary Time), each piece using a different Mies landmark as backdrop. With Gravity is a Force to be Reckoned With, Manglano-Ovalle revisits Mies, this time creating a building that was never realized. Working with the architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, he has built a glass house based on a Mies design called the “50x50 house,” which was originally a prototype to solve the problem of mass housing.

Manglano-Ovalle’s version occupies a space at the end of the expansive gallery known as Building 5 at MASS MoCA. Upon entering the gallery, the viewer sees a glass house at the far end of the space and once up close, will notice that the contents of the house are inverted. The floor is on the ceiling and the furnishings are upside down. The only indication of gravity is a cup that has shattered onto the ceiling, which is now the floor. Two other details contribute to the disquietude of the scene: one is a ringing phone displaying a succession of unanswered video messages, and the other is the door which is slightly ajar. The phone creates the only movement in the tableau and the cryptic communications recorded on it hint at a possible act of subversion. The messages left by the callers, intended for the absent inhabitant, are inspired by the Russian science fiction novel We, written by Yevgeny Zamyatin in 1921.

At the back of the gallery is a video called Always After (The Glass House). It shows the aftermath of what appears to have been a catastrophic event. In reality, Manglano-Ovalle filmed the shattering of the windows of Mies’s Crown Hall prior to its renovation. Shot at ground level, the video is a metaphor for a culture that, as the artist explains, “in a sense, only looks at the world as a condition of a post-event (and) is then a culture that can only do maintenance.” Like many of Manglano-Ovalle’s works, this installation of three separate pieces has no clear narrative. Instead, it explores a host of topics including dystopia, revolution, happiness, freedom, uniformity, and chaos. The artist’s deft use of Mies’s designs are, as always, a tribute as well as a critique.

As with much of Manglano-Ovalle’s work, this installation is ultimately a contemplation on global politics. Juggernaut, another recent work which is on view at the Williams College Museum of Art, is also about global politics, but more specifically about the environment. Filmed from a low angle, the piece shows what looks like a frozen arctic landscape. In reality, it is a salt mine adjacent to El Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve in Baja Sur, Mexico, the largest wildlife refuge in Latin America and the mating ground for endangered grey whales. As the camera tracks a vast white landscape the view is soon interrupted by an extreme close-up of a slow-moving convoy of mining vehicles. As the behemoth crawls across the foreground, the focus on the land is disrupted by the hulking machinery. Both Juggernaut and Gravity is a Force to be Reckoned With demonstrate Manglano-Ovalle’s virtuosity at revealing the interplay between beauty and abomination.

In the neighboring gallery at Williams is another sort of contemplation on landscape by Mike Glier. Glier’s show, called Along a Long Line, is part of the annual Studio Art Faculty Exhibition that also includes work by Amy Podmore. The title refers to his travels to four different locations along the 70th line of longitude, including places in Canada, Ecuador, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and New York City. His “en plein air” paintings of these locales are painted in his signature abstract style; however, some are more figurative than others. This series is a follow up to the one he started in 2006 called Latitude, in which he painted the changes that took place through the seasons in his own backyard. In both series Glier captures the uniqueness of the local as a reflection of the global, but like Thoreau, he would do well to remain closer to home. His Latitude paintings that were included in Badlands at MASS MoCA last year seemed far more spontaneous and energetic. Many of the Longitude pieces feel more staid and less emotive. They are nonetheless a timely portrait of one year along one small slice of our battered yet endlessly beguiling Earth.

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