Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Silence. At the Menil Collection, Houston.

John Cage's 4'33" was for me a revelation of what is possible in art, that has stayed with me as a viewer as well as a practitioner. I was fortunate to have as college professors people who studied with Cage, Cunningham, Rauschenberg, etc. at Black Mountain College in North Carolina, a seminal center for the avante-garde in America.

So I'd love to go to Houston for this. Anyone?


July 27, 2012 - October 21, 2012 at the Menil Collection, Houston,

From the Menil website: Silence is a powerful force. It can produce profound emotions or conjure startling sensory experiences, and it seems inextricably linked to the passage of time. A prerequisite for contemplative thought, silence has become a scarce commodity in today’s media-saturated world. The exhibition and catalogue project Silence considers this important and little-examined subject in modern and contemporary art. Ranging from uncanny to incantatory to experiential, its broad range of works are not all without sound, but all reflect the many ways artists invoke silence to shape space and consciousness.

Joseph Beuys, "Das Schweigen" (The Silence), 1973

Whether experienced as a source of inspiration, enigmatic force, or unsettling limbo zone, silence is elusive in today's world. Inspired by John Cage's 1952 groundbreaking composition 4'33", Silence—co-organized by the Menil Collection and the University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive—offers a thorough and stirring exploration of the exhibition's subject.

Conceived by Toby Kamps, Menil curator of modern and contemporary art, the exhibition means to "examine a few of the many attempts in which artists have employed the absence of sound or speech over the last century." These attempts, Kamps added, have embraced silence as phenomenon, metaphor, force—and as an environmental state expressed in performance. Silence can also possess and convey powerful political meaning.

Ranging from uncanny to incantatory to experiential, the broad range of works on view in the exhibition are not all without sound, but all reflect the many ways in which artists invoke silence to shape space and consciousness.

Beginning with forebears Giorgio de Chirico and René Magritte, the exhibition advances to a number of artists who came of age in the 1950s and 60s, including Robert Rauschenberg and Ad Reinhardt, and such European contemporaries as Josef Beuys and Yves Klein.

Described by Kamps as "the silent big bang" at the heart of the exhibition—Cage's 4'33" stands as perhaps the most legendary deployment of avant-garde silence. This three-part piano piece, first performed in 1952 by virtuoso David Tudor, contains no actual playing of music. It instead calls attention to the ambient sounds surrounding the audience, corroborating Cage's assertion that there is "no such thing as silence"—that the natural world is continually generating new forms of music.

Cage cited Rauschenberg's White Paintings as a prime stimulus for 4'33", calling the flat white canvases "airports for the lights, shadows, and particles." One work from that series—White Painting (Two Panel)—will be on view in the exhibition.

I could only find an image for White Painting (Three Panel)1951, painting | oil on canvas

Among the show's paintings, sculptures, performances, sound, and video works are the iconic Box with the Sound of Its Own Making by Robert Morris; a work by Bruce Nauman, Violence Violins Silence; and documentation of the performance piece One Year Performance by Tehching Hsieh.

Silence builds on selections from 20th-century masters with challenging recent work by younger artists. Mark Manders, a Dutch sculptor working in Belgium and the Netherlands, has made two new installations for the show. Silent Head on a Concrete Floor depicts a vertical slice of a head bound by straps between piano key-like wooden slats, all resting on a newspaper of the artist's invention that uses every word in the English language in random order. Another noteworthy piece is Kurt Mueller's Cenotaph, a neon-festooned Rock-Ola Legend jukebox filled with 100 CD recordings of historical, commemorative moments of silence.

Other contemporary innovators include Manon de Boer, Jennie C. Jones, Jacob Kirkegaard, Christian Marclay, Amalia Pica, Doris Salcedo, Tino Sehgal, Stephen Vitiello, and Martin Wong.

Giorgio de Chirico, Melancholia, 1916. The Menil Collection, Houston Photo: Hickey-Robertson, Houston

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