Sunday, June 23, 2013

I Know They Know

Louise Bourgeois ( ink on silk )
  at The Herbert F. Johnson Museum
  "HAIR - Untangling Roots of Identity"
     thru July 14, 2013

If the government is conducting surveillance and reads my blog, at least they will be learning something about what to see in our part of New York State!

On a sunny day, I ducked inside the Herbert F. Johnson Museum on the Cornell University campus in Ithaca, to see their exhibitions.  The new entrance to the museum leads you downstairs past a partially enclosed Japanese garden and towards a temporary exhibition extolling the artistic potential and virtues of human hair.

The show accompanied by a handy little catalog was developed by The History of Art Majors' Society, and on the walls of the museum were myriad images where hair and hair styles play their part ( no pun intended).

Marina Abramovic

Marina Abramovic in a video projected on a wall is seen brushing her hair furiously and intoning that:"Art Must Be Beautiful" and the "Artist must be beautiful" meanwhile her image conveys frustration as the performance piece continues and the quandary deepens....  The subtitle of the show is "Untangling Roots of Identity" and this concerns both sexes - made memorable by the image of Ernesto Pujol all dressed up in a white habit of a Catholic nun that totally obscures the hair and calls into question the sex of the wearer.

Red dyes on silk is the medium in which Louise Bourgeois completes her thoughts on hair - and her funny image equates a faceless woman with a fountain continually spouting.  My friend,  Kumi Korf has a little print in this show that portrays a free floating hairstyle ( no face once again ) and short straight bangs.  How we look, and how we present ourselves is all part of our design, and it becomes identified with who we are and what we would like others to think of us.

A space is set aside for an extensive collection of weavings that the Johnson Museum has received as a donation.  Here I found a radical departure from the pictorialism of hair concepts in the rich geometry of a Naga Culture textile from 1930-1950.  The Naga Culture is from Burma, now called Myanmar and the strong grid is reinforced cotton with cowrie shells.

Naga Culture textile:
   cotton, goat hair, and cowrie shells

In the next room Kumi Korf is given more space to lay out a mini-retrospective of her prints and artist's books.  Kumi is also an architect and the three dimensional aspect of her artwork is very engaging.  There seems to be some influence from Joseph Cornell's shadow boxes in Kumi's artwork, as well as an aesthetic of biomorphism combined with calligraphy.  I am attracted to her recent prints like "Starr's Garden" - an intaglio print on Akatosashi paper, and I was struck by the unusual geometric forms of her book: "The Alphabet of My Phobias".

Kumi Korf's "The Alphabet of My Phobias"

Upstairs, in the Johnson Museum is another solo show titled "Summer Breeze", the paintings and drawings of Alice Dalton Brown.  Here, paintings dominate the space and Ms. Brown - a photorealist - portrays a world of sunlight in an empty room ( without the existential angst found in Edward Hopper's painting of the same name ).  Alice Dalton Brown has a quiet, patient approach to art making and it strikes a slow, determined, therapeutic note in contrast to a world that seems to constantly rush by.For this viewer the paintings are repetitive - seeming to strike the same notes over and over again, all done with a consummate virtuosity, of course.

"Golden Corner", 1988 by Alice Dalton Brown

Outside of the museum and just up the street is the new wing attached to the School of Art, Architecture and Urban Planning.  Opened this past year we have the marquee designs of Rem Koolhaas and you should take a walk through the new premises to see what can be done to shape the academic environment and give those students some new ways to think about space.  I was impressed, this sets a new standard, and an example to build upon.  

Rem Koolhaas 
School of Art, Architecture and Urban Planning
Cornell University

When I was a student getting my MFA at Cornell in the 1970's, I watched as the I.M. Pei designs took shape as the Herbert F. Johnson Museum went up on campus - it is still striking now forty years later.
You should take a look!