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Pushing Boundaries Edition

It’s funny how ideas and tastes change over time. We can remember when ‘real’ art was only drawing, painting, and sculpture. Photography and film could be art, but only under special circumstances: preferably when it was black and white images, historical in content, and usually not made in the US. Art that was grounded in a philosophical ideology was ok, political ideology was not ok but could be kitschy (a distinctly less good form of art but not the worst thing either), to defang it and keep the kids from becoming communists. Sound art was so difficult and obscure only critics seemed to get it; video art was more accessible while also being challenging if you didn’t know the reason for the work on view. And most of the general public didn’t care for either kind of art but in all fairness, it’s not like there were all that many museums showing it at the time.

Of course, we’re exaggerating this view of the past, but sometimes when we’re in yet another gallery or museum with video monitors and cleverly hidden speakers, we sigh and wish that just once, we could see something real, with an intellectual force behind it, not just a collection of observations flickering across a screen. As luck would have it, this week we are highlighting three exhibits demonstrating the kind of art that asks some important questions about creation and the reaction that follows, forcing viewers to confront what they think versus what they feel.

Isamu Noguchi, Composition for Arrivals Building, Idlewild Airport , c. 1956–58. Model in plaster, faux granite over plaster. The Noguchi Museum Archives. ©INFGM / ARS

At The Noguchi Museum two shows reveal Isamu Noguchi’s flexible attitude towards art and design. In The Sculptor and the Ashtray, we see the artist follow two distinct pathways to solve the design problem of making the perfect ashtray receptacle. One track sees him crafting a multitude of forms using different textures to respond to a person’s movements: resting a cigarette, extinguishing the burning object, placing it in the tray. Each object could be a small sculpture, the shape harmonizing with the interior surface. The second route tries to simplify the object further so that it could be easily mass-produced. The other show, Composition for Idlewild Airport, follows Noguchi’s ideas as he creates a large abstract work for an art competition. His thoughts on how to represent the concept of flight did not win but his efforts found their way into other pieces, as well as his overall philosophy to give the materials a bigger role in his art. To learn more about these shows, click on ‘Opening This Week’.

Max Ernst, Singe, 1970 gouache, ink and collage on paper 7 1/4 x 6 inches 18.4 x 15.2 cm 13 1/4 x 12 x 1 1/2 inches, framed 33.7 x 30.5 x 3.8 cm © 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ ADAGP, Paris, France. Courtesy of Kasmin Gallery. Photo by Diego Flores.

For the ‘Gallery Shows’ section, we feature Kasmin’s latest show, Max Ernst: Collages, displaying over 30 images from the noted Dada and Surrealist artist. Modern viewers may find these pieces more amusing than anything else but it’s worth remembering that these works were deeply shocking when they were first seen, with their mashups of human, animal, and machine images, nearly seamless in their composition. For Ernst, the labor of assemblage gave time to think, shape and achieve a subliminal emotional response from a viewer’s own psychological history. As a result, every generation, regardless of experience, sees the madness of their world reflected in his outrageous rearrangements. It just goes to show: the more things change, the more they stay the same.