Monday, March 23, 2009

Fashion (and Light Bulbs) in Contemporary Art

Given that fashion is my muse in my artistic practice, I'm enchanted when I find work by other artists who use fashion/clothing for inspiration. The photo shown is of a bronze sculpture in the outdoor garden at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego in La Jolla. Titled Eden it is by Judith Shea, an American, born 1948, whose elegant work reflects her background as a fashion designer.

Inside the gallery, there is an engaging show of work by Jasper Johns (January 18 - May 10, 2009), highlighting the significance of the relationship between his two-dimensional and three-dimensional work. Included in this show were Jasper Johns first sculpture Light Bulb I and his related sculptures, prints, and drawings including several works from the artist's collection that have never been exhibited. (Sadly, no photos were allowed inside the SDMCA).

For Johns, the light bulb is a "Thing the mind already knows," an object so familiar that it is rarely truly observed and a thing seen so frequently that it is usually ignored.

Johns treated the simple light bulb as an object of beauty, by sculpting it in bronze and by featuring it as the primary focus of his drawings in graphite wash and paper, etchings, and lead relief sculpture. His work makes the viewer question his/her perception, labeling and categorization of objects. The light bulb was the subject of Johns first sculpture and became one of his signature images.

Besides the Jasper Johns exhibition, there were a number of other contemporary art works on display including one by Cornelia Parker called Rorschach (Accidental IV) 2006. In this installation piece, she suspended 70 silver plated objects crushed by 250-ton industrial press with metal wire just inches above the floor. In this symmetrical Rorschach-like composition of flattened silver-plated objects, Parker played with the ideas of status, meaning and power. She began this work with silver-plated objects of desire, commemoration and status such as candelabra, tea sets, platters -- objects that she considers traditional signifiers of class of her home in Great Britain. The Rorschach reference becomes a way to measure the unknown and reveal personal histories and secrets. I was mesmerized by this work. The glittery surfaces of the silver took on a different cast when crushed flat. They still were beautiful but there was an associated element of destruction and decay. This was my favourite piece on display at the Museum.

And finally, I had to laugh when I tried to take a photo out of a window cut-out in a gallery overlooking the ocean. I was stopped by the guard (NO PHOTOS!!!!) who told me that it was a work of art and therefore no photos were permitted through the cut-outs. This piece was called “” by Robert Irwin 1997. It was a witty piece of contemporary art in which the artist framed the best views of the ocean with cut-outs. It was very clever but incredibly frustrating not to be able to photograph the ocean, never mind "the art"!

Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego La Jolla
700 Prospect Street, La Jolla 92037