“Engage With The Ideas”
On the second floor of the Museum Of Contemporary Art Denver is a wall on which are attached 75 speakers. As a result of the efforts of Czech-born artist Pavel Büchler, each speaker found its way to the wall from some former Soviet Bloc country. Stand back from them and you can hear a message that sounds as if it is spoken in German. Put your ear to any individual speaker and you hear nothing. The volume on each speaker is set too low to hear alone, but emerging collectively is one voice.
How do you interpret such a display? The German sounding language seems to be nothing more than gibberish–actually it is German artist, Kurt Schwitters’ poem, “The Ursonate”–so, to me, the display seems to be mocking the collective mindset that once was so pervasive in the former Soviet Bloc countries. The individual has no voice in the communist political structure, but collectively the message is delivered, and more importantly, it doesn’t say much.
Others who experience it may react differently, and I may even be missing the artist’s point. But it is the way I see it, and that reaction the piece provoked in me implies that the purpose of contemporary art extends beyond merely adorning and embellishing our surroundings.
“Experience The Art”
Featured until January 13, 2013 are two contemporary painting exhibits. One is an exhibit by Romanian artist, Adrian Ghenie, entitled Pie Fights and Pathos. With the exception of That Moment, a painting depicting the suicide of Adolph Hitler and his mistress Eva Braun, and Pie Fight Study II, a work showing what appears to be a film character’s face covered with pie and ice cream, Ghenie’s display is made up of eight paintings he created for this exhibition. Ghenie draws on a Dadaist* approach by blending historical fact with fictional desire. The paintings are eerie, yet beautiful, and, just like the speakers on the wall, make a statement.
The other is by Brooklyn, NY based artist, Dana Schutz. Her exhibition, entitled Works On Paper, is also made up of paintings created exclusively for this exhibit. Another of her exhibits, If The Face Had Wheels, is simultaneously on display at the Denver Art Museum until January 13, 2013. Schutz’s works are found in museums throughout the US and Europe. In her works here she uses watercolors that are applied with sweeping and broad brush strokes, sometimes made with tools as unorthodox as a broom. That technique combined with pastel, colored pencil and crayon allows Schutz to create works that are humorous, surreal, solemn, and scary. What message do you, others, and I receive? Who knows, and you will not know until you are there to “Experience The Art.”
“Sense The Energy”
Walk through the floors of the museum and see displays such as Kenneth Goldsmith’s Soliloquy , a transcript that fills an entire room with every word that he spoke in one week; Derek Beaulieu’s The Newspaper, 2002-2004, a recreation of the sections from The Calgary Herald where Beaulieu replaced the words with color; and Jonathan Monk’s What is Seen is Described and What is Described is Seen, Version IX, 2010, an extension of a project Monk began nearly seven years ago that asked a group of artists to translate a painting into text and back into a painting, now is on display as a sculpture.
These works though unconventional and non-conforming are, nonetheless, thoughtful and individualistic and not the product of someone who is just trying to shock or antagonize us. They required thought, energy, and time to create, and they are meant to communicate something to us. What that something is, is left to each of us to ponder and deduce.
“Enjoy The Non-Sense”
So what is the purpose of contemporary art? Is it to make a political statement, to experiment with new media, to beautify our environment, to combine different and unrelated artistic media in a single piece, or is it to debate with oneself or others to determine if a specific work is art at all? When it comes to art, the answer isn’t easy, but in the end it is up to you and me to decide what the piece says, if anything, and how it fits into the way that you, the artist, and I see the world.
The MCA Denver offers the visitor just that opportunity to see and interpret contemporary art. As the MCA Denver is a non-collection museum, the exhibits change periodically, so you will be offered that visitor experience not just now, but many times to come. Take the time to make the MCA Denver part of your museum journey, so that you too can “Engage With The Ideas”, “Experience The Art”, “Sense The Energy”, and “Enjoy The Non-Sense.”
*Dadaism as defined in the New Oxford American Dictionary: “an early 20th-century international movement in art, literature, music, and film, repudiating and mocking artistic and social conventions and emphasizing the illogical and absurd.”