Sunday, September 22, 2013

Blinded, warped, and surprised at the Grand Palais

Many of the art stars of the 20th Century made their careers by embracing abstraction. The painters are the most well known.  But a summer exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris shows that many of the most interesting abstract artists worked in and continue to work in non-traditional mediums: namely light and motion.

Dynamo: A Century of Light and Motion 1913 -2013 is an epic exhibition that for me was less about light and motion, and more about the way we as humans perceive the world.  I've already mentioned that Parisians know how to curate and install ambitious exhibitions.  And this show was jaw dropping for its size, scope, and the ambitiousness of the installation.   The exhibition is big enough, that I've decided to write two posts: The other post will feature more traditional still photos.  This post will be my first ever Vine video post.  These six-second videos struck me as the perfect way to share the motion-driven experiences and the fun of the exhibit.

That brings me to my final point before I start talking about the specific work.  I like exhibits that ask you to consider new, difficult questions but that aren't just academic.  This exhibit delivered on this philosophy in a spectacular way.  While it was immensely thought provoking, it was also loads of fun.  And that's hard to achieve.

Here are a few of my favorite pieces, captured on Vine videos.  I've categorized them into themes and ideas that jumped out at me.  I apologize that in my awestruck state, I didn't capture the titles of some of these works.  I'll include them where I have them and will try to at least identify the artist when I don't.

Self Reflection
Seeing yourself in art in a literal way can be surprisingly powerful. Especially when that self morphs and moves in dizzying ways.  Dynamo represented an introduction for me to the works of Jeppe Hein who regularly works with mirrors that are set in motion.  Three works in Dynamo deliver different perception-shifting experiences, all from Hein. The first work is Rotating Labyrinth, 2007 and the second is Mirror Billboard, 2008. The third video features a work titled 360 Degree Illusion II.

A Flash of Emotion
There are numerous times during a walk through Dynamo when the curators warn visitors, particularly those prone to epileptic episodes, that the art on display may induce seizures.  Most of those artworks involve intensely flashing lights.  And you can see why they might affect our brains in such dramatic ways.  Even though I'm not prone to seizures, several of these works were unsettling and left me feeling unstable and unsure of the world around me.

The first work is John Armelder's Voltes III, 2004.  The second is Carston Holler's Light Corner which was overwhelming.  You could feel the heat radiating from the light bulbs. The third work is The Flicker, 1966 by Tony Conrad.  And the fourth is Slow Arc Inside a Cube IV, 2009 by Conrad Shawcross.

The illusion of movement.
Many of the works in Dynamo use simple devices that only come to life when you as the viewer move around the work.  Some of them were almost secretive about their offered illusions.  But once you discovered the trick, they were loads of art-world fun.

The first video is Cloisonne a Lanes Reflessichantes, 1966 by Julio Le Park followed by a second work from the same artist.  That third and fourth works are Double Metamorphose III 1968-1969 by Yaacov Agam and Instabilite No 3, 1962-1969 by Jean-Pierre Yvaral

The love of color.
Combine op art with a vast array of color and you get some surprising results that can be mesmerizing, playful, or even overwhelming.  In that last category is the third video in this grouping which was so disorienting  that I had a brief moment of terror realizing that I might not be able to find my way out. It was a room filled with artificial fog lit through colored filters.  The work is titled Daylight Blue, Sky Blue, Medium Blue, Yellow, 2011 by Ann Veronica Janssens.  The first video is Transchromie, 1975/2013 by Carlos Cruz-Diez and the second is Espaces Chromatiques, 1970 by Gregorio Vardenaga.

A surprisingly simple trick.
I'll end this post with one of my favorite works in the show. Beyond the Fans, 2013 by Zilvinas Kempinas is simple yet so delightful it made me want to be a kid again.  I love it when kids discover strange ways to use everyday objects to create largely useless, amazing results.  This piece, which uses fans to force two large loops of magnetic tape to float magically against a wall is the perfect embodiment of the childlike curiosity that permeates Dynamo. 

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