Saturday, April 4, 2009

MAD Noguchi

Some great New York picks to stimulate your creative side and push the parameters are the Museum of Arts and Design or MAD (great acronym) on Columbus Circle Manhattan and on the flip side or other side of the bridge at a complimentary pace is the Noguchi Museum in Brooklyn. Visiting the two places in the same day, only minutes apart afforded me the opportunity to make some interesting observations. There are more similarities than dissimilarities between the work being shown in either building.

Visiting MAD all floors had something amazing to offer ( This place will get the creative juices flowing. The jewelry featured on the first floor in the Tiffany sponsored galley hits all levels but most impressive are the drawers installed beneath the glass cases that contain hundreds more necklaces, earrings and bracelets from all over the globe. Opposite that is a temporary exhibition guest curated by Karim Rashid called Totally Rad: Karim Rashid Does Radiators, showcasing some of the most unique and innovative methods by designers to heat your home or office. Most of the designs are counter to preconceived ideas of what and how a typical radiator operates and can be. Each one, in the right environment would be a sleek stealth fixture in any room, all operating as a form of minimal sculpture. My favorite radiator is by Stefano Ragaini called Ciussai, 2005, made of coiled stainless steel hose hanging from a metal hook on the wall. Its applications really push parameters. Depending on the length of the coil you can snake it through the room, under covers etc. and bring the heat directly to you. A fabulous and simple solution. The values are like bathroom fixtures and the hoses attach like a garden hose (simple screw on and off). For anyone messing with plumbing and moving a hundred pound plus radiator, this is magical.
At any exhibition I tend to gravitate, appreciate and love works that offer a solution or possibility to explore ideas in my own work. I also have an appreciation for low brow art and design, work within my own realm, of being able to copy or emulate and live with. Large monstrous installations and super size paintings or wall art can be and usually are no more thought provoking than smaller works. Size is a relative sometimes egotistical on the artist’s part believing that their work has some historical relevance and will be collected by cathedral like institutions for preservation. First the work needs to be good, and secondly museums collect to have a complete historical representation not because the work is necessarily good. I do like work that is within the scope, size and understanding of being human. It would be nice to come home to an eight foot tall painting but for most people and their homes it is unrealistic.  
The artist Sol Lewitt was very much into this communal and shared response to his own work. The scale of his work can vary and if you choose to investigate all the permutations of the geometry you can cover all the walls of your home. Even though he sold the instructions for his wall drawings at auction, he really encouraged people to go out and do there own drawings, to find beauty in the color and forms and on some level emulate his work. I think this is the sentiment of most artists and designers. To copy, to have someone emulate your own work and engage in the creative process and spirit is a real from of flattery and encouragement. It is education and enlightenment at its finest.

Works from MADs permanent collection are beautiful, complex and thoughtful (though not always contextual and meaningful of the time) emphasizing quality and craftsmanship over ideas and contemporary materials . Many of the works emulated everyday objects and applications such as bowls, vases, cups, baseball bats, human like figurines, etc. They are forms and objects that do not contend or move our thinking outside the life that we already know and emotionally relate and respond to. It is work that is on the cusp of design and/or art but not pushing the parameters of either discipline. Two works that stood out in this collection were Alya Serfaty’s Trust, 2008, made of transparent glass filaments encased in a polymer web.
 The description suggests we call it a “defining membrane” but beyond that it is an coral like wall sconce/sculpture and one of the most organic and delicate objects in the show. It alludes to being in a state of growth, ready to breathe and oscillate. Knowing the materials and viewing the soft and tranquil coagulations of the surface memorize like staring at clouds.

Currently Carolyn and I are searching for ideas to create an outdoor sculpture for our small garden. The second piece that grabbed our attention and presented a possibility was an open bowl like structure by Gyöngy Laky called Red Birds, 1988, assembled with pieces of red plastic coated electrical wire and twigs. It is the combination, process and transformation of common objects into something that is more than the sum total of its parts, one defining attribute of an aesthetic progression.

Second Lives: Remixing the Ordinary on the fourth floor is a must see show at MAD. Every work in this exhibition stands alone as something extraordinary. Carlo Marcucci presents a Lewitt like super clean geometric wall hanging in a corner space made from squid ink spaghetti, noodles and wood. Crazy gold and silver plastic toys, ornate over the top super post-mod contemporary Roccoco sculptures by Hew Locke makes you take a second and third look at what the hell is going on with those things. You can’t help but smile. Subodh Gupta shows a Robert Irwin like ellipse, but without the illusion and guesswork. It is a half sphere 8 foot round, 36 inch deep armature attached to the wall with hundreds of polished stainless steel pots, cups, ladles, bowls, etc. One of my favorite artists is Tara Donovan, using thousand of stacked buttons to create a freestanding sculpture that looks like a 3-D topo map or some kind of stalagmite. Other feature works include a tire sculpture by Chakaia Booker and thousands of bottle caps, small pieces of metal and wire are used by El Anatsui to create a 96 x 324 inch wall hanging. Second Lives will help push anyone push the parameters with materials.

In contrast, after a bite eat in Columbia Circle with a view of the MAD building (nice piece of architecture, better interior layout than the New Museum) we headed across the bridge to the Noguchi Museum ( Since this was the Brooklyn studio of the famed sculptor Isamu Noguchi, he was responsible for much of the appeaance and grounds of the existing museum. In contrast to the sleek upscale style of MAD this building grounds a visitor in the fact that this was once an actual working studio space. A very budget conscious renovation that accomplishes just enough to show the work as Noguchi intended. We relate because there is a commonality and interconnection that forces one to not just look but participate, to dance in synchronization with the aesthetic rhythms and reverberations that the work emits. Noguchi knew when something worked, when he connected with nature, He polishes the stone surfaces but also leaves areas unpolished as to allow the work a place to escape, to free itself from control. These are the areas of absolute hope, of nature in its rawest state and it is at these points that nature connects with the work. Because he allows the stone and wood to appear as the materials that they are (not painting or blocking the surfaces) Noguchi’s art comes closest to competing with nature. Olafur Eliasson’s mechanized NY waterfalls were impressive on paper and print. Cropped and controlled the promotional photography made for interesting images but in person it was a huge effort for a small impact. The sum total did not exceed its parts. The waterfalls became unimpressive once experienced in the context of a vast urban landscape. But like any artist Eliasson has his hits and misses and Noguchi is no exception. His stone sculptures are human size and hold their own, giving nature a “run for its money.” Rather than compete with or emulate nature he compliments and extends its beauty. Working with and connected through the materials. He is one of those rare artists that deserve a bit more attention. His approach, ideas and art can be an important study in order to create and bring meaningful and proportionate objects into the world.

Though presented in two different venues the inventiveness, form and emotional response that is generated by Noguchi and much of the work displayed at MAD are very similar. Both resonate with a cool minimal approach that triggers serenity and contemplation through an extended investigation of form, material and construction. For design and art these are features that, beyond making blatant and overt political and social statements (a gimmick of shock and awe art), are timeless, energized and relate to, not only a human condition but an organic and living condition.