Hessel Museum Features Student Curators: Where Process Signifies Message

Published on April 25th, 2013 | by Carola Lott

Mullican

Work by Matt Mullican.

“less like an object more like the weather,” the current exhibition at the Hessel Museum, is curated by 14 students in the master’s program at Bard’s Center for Curatorial Studies. The students have chosen to present their individual projects simultaneously, under one title.

John Cage described his collaboration with Merce Cunningham as “less like an object and more like the weather. Because in an object, you can tell where the boundaries are. But in the weather, it’s impossible to say when something begins or ends.” The students’ collaboration reflects Cage’s sentiment and “prompts the viewer to experience the venture’s heterogeneity less as an object to be assimilated, and more as a movement towards a climate of engagement.”

The exhibition gathers the work of some 54 “emerging” and “contemporary” artists (meaning you probably haven’t heard of them), assembled from the Center’s archives or made especially for this show. The artists worked in video, painting, installations, graphics and sculpture.

Unfortunately, space permits mentioning only a few of the exhibits.

“None the Wiser,” curated by Marie Heilich, features abstract black-and-white designs on large pieces of graph paper mounted on the wall and reflected in two mirrored boxes on the floor, as well as faces rendered in black ink, also on graph paper. On the other side of the room divider, commissioned poems—mostly having to do with blood and mother—are written in large letters. Many of these sayings require the use of the F word, and in case we miss the point, the messages have been collected in a booklet for us to take home. The permutations of one four-letter word are quite astonishing.

In the same room, a video loop shows people standing in a interminably long line, horses grazing in a field adjacent to a motorway, and a man directing passersby in how, when and where to cross a street. The curatorial notes explain, “The work is granted a candid perspective, the potential for chance, and the realism of everyday, unstaged gestures. … Medium and message conflate, reality congeals and disintegrates, and doubts begin to surface.” Quite.

“The Very Quick of the Word,” curated by Annie Godfrey Larmon, consists of degraded VHS tapes originally shot horizontally by Ken Oklishi but here mounted vertically on the wall. The screens are embellished with “gestural painting,” which may mean finger painting. One screen shows George W. Bush giving the State of the Union address beneath dabs of an unappealing shade of brown politely known as caca.

“Don’t Blame Anyone,” curated by Juana Berrío, is inspired by a short-story by Julio Cortázar “that narrates, in minute detail, a man’s efforts to put on a sweater.” The exhibition includes works by artists  more interested in process than progress. In one video a very young Bruce Nauman walks s..l..o..w..l..y around a square taped to the floor. Another video shows an older Nauman using a posthole digger to build a paddock on his ranch in Galisteo, New Mexico. Among the constructions in the gallery is a granite pedestal to which a leafy vegetable, possibly a lettuce, has been affixed with a piece of copper wire.

“Persona Ficta,” curated by Cora Fisher, explores the concept of art as a threat to power. One of the installations consists of a video of a young black man with a mohawk removing individual bills pinned to his shirt before setting them on fire and then dousing the flames in a bucket of water. This not-very-subversive act attracts several policemen, who give him a summons. While it is crazy to burn money on the street, it is far less insane than the loss of the billons that can vanish in a single day on Wall Street, where there is money to burn while half the planet lives on less than $2 a day.

To fully appreciate such a show requires concentration and active participation by the viewer—almost impossible for someone with the attention span of a fruit fly, like myself. If I failed to understand much of what I saw or to grasp the connection between the pieces in each installation, I could not help but admire the care and dedication the young curators put into their exhibits. And it is hard to disagree with their themes concerning sustainability, care of the earth, women’s rights and the senseless horror of war.

The CCS Bard Galleries and Hessel Museum of Art at Bard College are open Thursday through Sunday from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. All exhibitions are free and open to the public. The Center’s two-year M.A. program in curatorial studies is specifically designed to deepen students’ understanding of the intellectual and practical tasks of curating contemporary art.

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About the Author

Carola Lott

Carola Lott, managing editor, has lived here in Millbrook for the past 30 years. She has worked as a freelance writer and photographer for a number of magazines. Working at The Millbrook Independent has given her the chance to meet new people and broaden her horizons. She feels that the best thing about Millbrook is the beautiful countryside that remains miraculously unspoiled. She can be reached at carolalott@gmail.com.


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