It was a beautiful fall day. And BYU wasn’t playing football. So I thought the traffic would be bearable for a trip to Provo. Why go to Provo? To see Turning Point: The Demise of Modernism and the Rebirth of Meaning in American Art at the BYU Museum of Art. I’m guessing an academic came up with the title.
The exhibit takes viewers from the Abstract Art of the 1960s, through Minimalism and Conceptual Art, and on to Contemporary Art. I buy the show’s idea that Minimalism and Conceptual Art were a reaction to abstraction. I’m not sure I agree with the notion that Minimalism led to the explosion of artistic styles we see today. But whether or not you agree with the premise, the art is worth seeing.
Let’s start with some of the earlier works in the show like Frank Stella’s Agbatana III (Fluorescent Acrylic on Canvas, 1968). This huge, shaped canvas feels like something from Austin Power’s bachelor pad—it’s just plain groovy.
From the minimalists, we get two spectacular works. The first is Donald Judd’s Untitled (Anodized Aluminum and Plexiglas, 1969). The piece uses simple materials to deliver astonishing finishes that mimic the high-tech surfaces of works by Jeff Koons and Anish Kapoor. And Sol Lewitt’s impressive 49 Three-Part Variations on Three Different Kinds of Cubes (Enamel on Steele, 1967-71) is a whole new approach to cubism.
Later works in the show are just as intoxicating. Take Jenny Holzer’s Truisms 2 English (Mini LED Sign, 1977-79). The work is exactly as described: A tiny LED sign scrolling bits of wisdom like, “Holding back protects your vital energies.” The sign is so small you can barely make out the words. The effect is mesmerizing.
My pick of the show is a 2008 work by Uruguayan artist Marco Maggi, Double Hotbed (Cuts on 98 Letter-Size Sheets of Paper). This piece is both imposing and delicate. It’s like a gleaming white city of the future—a place I’d like to live. This work is hard to describe. Think miniature pop-up-book sculpture—only on a strangely grand scale.
Recommending Turning Point is tricky because so many people find this type of art perplexing. But you should go. It’s worth the trip. And if you’re afraid to go alone, call me. I’d visit again.
Turning Point is on display through January 3, 2009.