Wednesday, August 21, 2019

States of Mind, States of Being: Meditations on the Human Condition

Here's a peek at a current show at the Montreal Museum of Fine Art. Though there are a number of paintings in the exhibition, it was the sculptures that caught my interest.

Theaster Gates, Ground Rules (Red Line, Green Line) 2015
"One of the most important artists of his generation, Chicago-based artist
Theaster Gates has developed a socially engaged practice that turns attention
 to overlooked peoples and histories. His Ground Rules series salvages remains of
gymnasium floors that have been decommissioned by the city of Chicago.
For Gates, the markings on the gym floor, the signs of the rules of the game,
are emblems of a broader social order learned at a young age:
lack of access leads to life-long disadvantage."

The introduction to the show reads,
"Philosopher Umberto Eco tells us that 'Art tries to give a possible image of this world, an image that our sensibility has not yet been able to formulate.... Art suggests a way for us to see the world in which we live, and, by seeing it, to accept it.' In an era that often places a premium on speed and sensationalism over slowness and substance, a moment when the world's barometer for truth is at times insupportably low, it falls to art to show us not just how the world might be, but how it really is."

Michel de Broin, The Abyss of Liberty, 2013
"Drawing on the famous Auguste Bertholdi statue unveiled in New York
in the 19th century, Michel de Brouin questions the notion of liberty
by placing the iconic figure in a precarious position.... With its
hollow interior made visible, this bronze cast conjures up a kind of abyss
in which the idealization of liberty falters."

Jana Sterbak, Planetarium (Montserrat Version), 2000-2002

Sylvia Safdie, Keren No. 4, 1999

Sylvia Safdie, Keren No. 4, 1999 (interior, detail)
A book with its pages partially exposed is positioned inside a large copper cylinder.
As the gaze of the viewer shifts, the pages appear to flip open, an optical illusion.

Tony Cragg, Sharing, 2005

Tony Cragg, Sharing, 2005, alternate view
An observant look reveals three faces melded into a spherical form.
"Sharing is a figuration of Cragg's enduring interrogation of the porousness
of human thought. 'Positive or negative we are constructed as much
from what we are as from what we take in,' Cragg has averred."

Yoan Capote, Abstenencia (Libertad), 2014
"This work consists of bronze casts of the hands of anonymous migrant workers
sequenced to spell in sign language the word 'Libertad' [Liberty]....
As a whole, the work creates an allusion to the difficulty common people
face in making their voices heard on important social issues."

I found these six works and others raised compelling questions about what it means to be human in this world.
"Created by artists of different races, genders, ethnicities and nationalities, the works in this gallery encourage us to think differently about the world and our place within it.... Silent hands the spell out 'liberty', an upside-down emblem, and reconstructed boards of a broken-down gymnasium floor invite us to question just what 'liberty' means and to better understand the inequalities that persist to this day."
The show is part of the museum's permanent collection. 

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