Sunday, September 12, 2010

Don't slip on the art work.

During a 2009 trip to NYC I paid a visit to The New Museum for a show called Younger Than Jesus. One of the works at that show was by Mexican artist Adriana Lara.  It consisted of a banana peel left each day somewhere in the museum by a museum employee.  Well now, that work of art has made its way to Salt Lake City.

In conjunction with the current show Las Artes des Mexico, the Utah Museum of Fine Arts launched a new series of semiannual exhibits called Salt.  These exhibits are designed to showcase art by emerging artists from around the world.  Adriana Lara is the featured artist for Salt 1. And that means there's a banana peel loose in the museum.

I liked Installation (Banana Peel), 2008 for its silliness when I saw it in New York and I like it in Utah as well.  Although, here in Salt Lake City the placement is significantly more deliberate than in NYC.  And I think it works better when it's more random.

Seeing this goofiness again made me think back to Steve Martin's art-museum antics in L.A. Story where he roller skates through museums while a friend video tapes him. I'm thinking maybe I should start photographing banana peels near famous works of art in the world's greatest museums.  I just wish I liked bananas better.

It would be unfair if the only piece I talk about from Salt 1 is a discarded banana peel.  So let's discuss the rest of Adriana Lara's show.  First, let me comment on the presentation.  Salt 1 felt like an afterthought with a half dozen or so works of art crammed into a tiny portion of a gallery.  Lara's work would be more effective if it were given more space.  Her work continues Duchamp's tradition of the ready made. Throw in references to Felix Gonzalez-Torres and Robert Smithson and you have a pretty good idea of Lara's work.

While I enjoy the humor of the banana peel (and the subversive, slapstick danger it brings to a museum setting), many of Lara's other works were less successful.  Probably my favorite of the other works was Plastic Snake.  This reminds of the works of Gonzalez-Torres where a stack of printed posters designed by the artist is left in a museum and visitors are invited to take the posters.  Here however, the plastic snake seems to warn visitors to leave the art alone.

Like Duchamp, Lara seems intent on forcing us to question what really constitutes art.  And I guess if Duchamp's urinal qualifies, why not a roll of toilet paper sitting on top of an empty display case.  It's like you can decorate your bathroom with museum-quality art.  Here's a photo of Installation (Toilet Paper), 2010.

Salt 1: Adriana Lara did little to inspire me.  I was largely left wondering why it mattered.  I'm sad I was out of town when the artist was here to talk about her work.  Maybe it would have made the show more engaging.  But while this show isn't one of the better contemporary exhibits I've seen in Utah, I'm just glad that UMFA is paying attention to new art that challenges viewers, even viewers like me who tend to give contemporary art the benefit of the doubt.

You can still see Salt 1: Adriana Lara but not for long.  The show runs through September 26, 2010.

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