January 19, 2007
Last Thursday I went to the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston. Thursdays are free and sponsored by Target, and I wanted to check out the building and get a bit of cult-tcha in my life.
When I walked in the woman at the front counter asked me if I wanted to attend a discussion given by the four Foster Prize finalists, which was starting on the exhibit hall on the 5th floor. I didn’t know who they were or what the exhibits were about, but I figured that it’d be good to get some art explained by the artists themselves.
The ICA is an interesting building – since the first floor doesn’t contain any exhibits, an unusually large glass walled elevator brings visitors to the top floor, where the exhibits are. (This is the floor that juts out over the dock in front.) I walked to the left and waited for the four finalists to begin the discussion, while viewing the exhibits that they had created.
Although I consider myself open-minded, modern art usually raises my eyebrow. There is a certain exhiliration when you confront something new and bizarre, but also a feeling like you’re not quite in on the joke. And the exhibits raised not one but both eyebrows – one exhibit was a wall of twist-ties 20 feet wide and about 30 feet high (see detail below).
Another one was a wall full of violet and blue flowers – though I didn’t quite understand the purpose of the art, I heard everyone who saw it express some form of delight. The flowers gave off a pleasant lilac scent, and the sight of live flowers in January caused a nice surprise when visitors rounded the corner and saw the exhibit.
At around 6:30 the artists showed up – you can read their bios here.
Kelly Sherman was the first to speak. She had 3 pieces in the exhibit: a video loop showing chair images on eBay, a series of “wish lists” tacked to the wall, and a series of floor plans.
I found the floor plans most interesting. One series began with the floor plan of a domestic house with the rooms and furniture labelled. The master bedroom contained a bed, cut in half, with “mother” in one color half and “father” in a different color on the other half. The second floor plan was the same as the first, only the mother’s color appeared in a single bed in a different room while the father’s bed spread to include the whole bed. In the third plan the mother’s color filled in a piece of furniture called “mother’s desk,” and in the fourth floor plan the mother’s color was gone. It reminded me of Chris Ware’s artwork – a simple visual narrative which achieved great emotional effect through seemingly cold and flat graphic illustrations.
The piece titled “wish lists” fell into the eyebrow-raising category. A series of legal-sized papyrus-colored paper appears in a series on the wall, attached by push-pins and binder clips. Each one is exactly the same, except for the wish lists printed on them. Some of the lists were comical (“Strawberry Shortcake pajamas, Strawberry Shortcake toys, anything Strawberry Shortcake”) to tragic (“A gravestone to bury my father (for my mother)”).
The artist spoke about the idea behind the piece – that all the wishes were real and pulled off the Internet, that the wishes implied certain things about the wisher, and that the juxtaposition of contrasting wishes created a dynamic contrast within the piece.
This made me think about the method that she’d used to present the information – that since all of the paper, binder clips, and push pins were exactly the same, the viewer could focus on the message. I was reminded of Edward Tufte and general principles of information architecture, and how similarities and differences can draw the eyes to certain points of a piece. Although “wish lists” was a simple piece, it was effective and I thought the artist’s explanation demonstrated the importance of the modern artist’s choice of material and presentation.
Overall I liked the exhibit, and afterwards we moved on to the other 3 finalists. Will finish this later this week.