It has been announced that on May 22 Lalla Essaydi will be awarded the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston’s Medal Award. (A retrospective of her work, “Lalla Essaydi: Revisions,” is currently on view at the National Museum of African Art Smithsonian in Washington.) I feel like it’s some sort of personal triumph. No, I do not know Lalla Essaydi and have obviously played no part in her phenomenal contributions to the art world. However, she is the focus of a disagreement in our household which I like to hold over my husband’s head, so she has become a bit of an obsession. I’m pretty sure I have told this story before, but to revisit, my husband and I saw a photograph by Lalla Essaydi at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston’s sale a number of years ago. I loved the photograph. There is some disagreement about what the actual price was at the time, but it was under $1,000. We did not buy it, much to my chagrin, because it was too expensive and too large. A few years later we saw the same photograph selling for $18,000. Oops. So there is really nothing more satisfying than proving to my husband what a horrendous mistake it was not to buy the photograph.
Essaydi was born in Marrakech, grew up initially in Morocco, and then spent a number of years living in Saudi Arabia. She creates breathtaking large scale portraits of Muslim women. The story they tell is both beautiful and chilling. To look at them is to be overcome by an incredible stillness.
To mention Sol Lewitt and leave it at that is to do a disservice to the other artists showing at MASS MoCA since truly each exhibit is more engaging than the last. So, to continue my tour of our visit to the museum, one of the things I find most fun at a museum (and this is part of why I am particularly partial to contemporary art museums) is learning about a new artist whose work I like, but who is not as yet quite so well known. Yes, I’m sure this is only in small part due to an appreciation of the art, and in a large part due to the opportunity it represents to buy art, but I only buy things I genuinely like so I think it’s more or less the same thing at the end of the day.
The show that my husband had wanted to see, and which was the impetus behind our trip to MASS MoCA in the first place, is entitled “Invisible Cities”. It is actually up until February 4, 2013, so if you have the opportunity to find yourself in North Adams, Massachusetts, within the next year, I highly recommend making the stop. It was an overall interesting exhibit, not only for the individual works, but for the way in which it was curated and the varied interpretations of how we experience cities by the different artists, not just because each has a different vision, but because they actually appeal to different senses. Emeka Ogboh’s Monday Morning in Lagos, 2010, consists only of a speaker mounted on the ceiling which plays the sounds of, as the title suggests, Lagos in the morning. The city is given physical form, is literally mapped out, through the voices of the bus drivers calling out their destinations layered over the voices of other residents of the city.
In the first room we entered, full of fantastical three dimensional “cities”, the one set of painted collages mounted on the far wall was the least interesting work — that is until I got close to the images and discovered that they were in fact my favorite things in the room. Mary Lum’s collages are surprisingly wonderful. Surprisingly because from a distance I read them as yet another rendering of a certain kind of linear constructivism that has already been worked through in numerous ways by artists over the last century. And yet, on closer inspection, Lum’s take on the subject is absolutely unique, contemporary and fascinating. Her collages not only layer images and shapes, but layer a broad range of artistic idiom. They bring together Constructivism, Cubism, Pop Art, you name it … there are elements Lichtenstein, Rauschenberg, Picasso, Rodchenko, El Lissitsky, and dozens of others, layered over each other to create an image of the city which is beautiful, but more than that, which has a depth that draws you in with increasing intensity the longer you look. The modern city is, in essence, the ultimate signifier of the 20th Century, the object which much of 20th Century art struggles to come to terms with, to give form. And that 100 years of visual culture gets compressed into the space and form of Lum’s collage. The following images show some of Lum’s collage work that was included in a show at the DeCordova Museum in Lincoln, Massachusetts. The first image is most representative of the work included in “Invisible Cities”.
Now here’s a guy who knows how to put photoshop to good use. Flemish photographer Filip Dujardin’s Fictions are so seamless that the read immediately as reality. It is only after you look at them for a while that you realize that the structures are impossible.
They have been compared to Escher’s drawings. With the immediacy and insistence on “reality” inherent to photography, I find the photographs much more compelling than the drawings which are fascinating for the visual tricks they play, but not particularly pretty to look at.