“Reflection alone can give us the idea of what perception is”
We saw these words in pale white neon lights above the stairs leading to the basement gallery at New York’s Sean Kelly art gallery. We paused and wondered who wrote these words, and who was the artist who noticed them and used them to make the installation.
The sentence looked familiar and we read the author’s name next to it. And we remembered that this came from the English philosopher John Locke (1632-1704). And we reflected.
The artist was Joseph Kosuth, one of the leading conceptual artists in our time.
At the gallery there was a group exhibition called “By the Book,” showcasing a diverse range of work in different media by artists of different times and approaches, but all inspired and influenced by literature, or the letters or books in their actual three dimensional form.
Inside the basement gallery we found a solo show of drawings and notebooks by the renowned multi-faceted artist Anthony McCall for developing several of his large scale installation and cinematic works from 1972 to 2013, such as his best known “Solid-Light” and “Between you and I”.
Notebooks, lines, maps, projections, storyboards, sketches, drafts… that were somehow connected to the exhibition above, “By the Book”, with art works on paper, pages, drawings…a site specific installation and performance by Peter Liversidge of scattered books for the gallery visitors to pick up, or unfinished little forms in aluminum and enamel resembling waste paper balls strewn in a corner by the Mexican artist Jorge Mendez Blake.
Every art work presented in the exhibition somehow suggested reflection, so that the page saying: “that was then, this is now” from one of the pages of published books selected for the installation of Valeska Soares entitling “Timeline III” began to make sense. Or, Ed Rusha’s mysterious bleached single letter “S,” or Anselm Kiefer’s huge work of paper in the form of an open flower called “Untitled- Secret Life of Plants,” that take us to different places of imagination. Or the more obvious works by the Portuguese artist Juliao Sarmento called Man Writer showing book covers by the author Paul Auster, Rebecca Horn’s more theatrical “Bloomsday for Sean” with a pair of shoes, egg, splashes of red paint that suggested blood encased inside a vitrine and a book on top of it, Candida Hofer’s photo of the “Biblioteca Riccardiana Firenze” library, Javier Tellez’s fox embracing a book in “F for Fable”, and Claudio Parmiggiani’s “II Sogno di Marcellino” that placed a plaster cast of head between a pile of books and a boat.
Tim Rollins and K.O.S made a painting showing only partially the letters of “I” and “M” after Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man directly on top of the book’s printed pages on a panel. For 30 years, Tim Rollins has been working with a so-called education group of young artists that call themselves “Kids Of Survival” or K.O.S that often incorporated into their art work musical scores, novels, a wide variety of printed matter ranging from popular to arcane, from minor to canonical, from legal documents to comic books. The painting is a powerful expression of the complex layers of existentialism and subterfuge conceptualism of the Invisible Man into a simple image of partial letters.
The Brooklyn based artist Chitra Ganesh presented a work unlike her usual image-based interpretation of myths and historical narratives. This time she used just words laid out in layers eliciting a sense of poetic shadow dance of words called “She in her Tangerine Skirt.”
The works of the American artists Roni Horn and Glenn Ligon carried thought provoking and yet obscure messages that awakened perception but not reasoning or empathy. Horn showed a long aluminum post against the wall with the words: ” Sweet is the Swamp with its Secrets” and Ligon’s painting was the repetition of the sentence : ” I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background”.
“By the Book” exhibition also included the work of Cuban artists Los Carpinteros and Diana Fonseca Quinones, the Iranian visual artist Shirin Neshat, Kiki Smith, Idris Kahn, and Marcel Duchamp among others.
To mark the end of summer, here are two exceptional exhibitions that create a certain connection between reflection and perception, art works that attempt to go beyond what is literal and leave to the viewer a world of possibilities, and now books have become more than books, and words have become more than words, and art has become more than art.
*For more info on Anthony McCall’s work, watch the videos CLICK HERE
*Cover image: Anthony McCall, White Noise Installation, Surge on Diagonal I, 1973/2008, ink and wash on paper, 14 1/8 x 23 inches