Saturday, July 18, 2015

Ofili opening

I went to the member's preview of the Aspen Art Museum Chris Ofili exhibit. We started in the second floor gallery.

This is the gallery where 6 Scenic Artists (including yours truly) painted the background mural. Details on that process can be found in an earlier post. 

I'd never seen Mr. Ofili's work before and was pleasantly surprised.  This is stuff you really need to see in person. He plays with gloss and flat- one of my favorite things. He plays with opalescence and opacity- another one of my favorite things. His drawing is solid. His color sense is solid.  He isn't afraid to dive "down down down where the iguanas play"

He has guts. It takes courage to stand out in a room of purple and these paintings take focus.

Heidi Zuckerman Aspen Art Museum Director  and Massimiliano Gioni Artistic Director of the New York New Museum of Contemporary Art (co-curator) gave the tour. The New Museum held first US exhibition of "Night and Day"  We learn that these paintings are based on the myth of Artemis. We learn that the darkest painting was hung first (this one screams Goya's Cronos devouring his children..). We learn that Mr. Ofili used 59 colors in the renderings for the background murals. (hmmmm…. we did not mix 59 colors…. we had 6 majors and riffed off of that… such are the dangers of print reproduction for artist's renderings… it will limit your color palette to the ink in your printer.. but then we only had 6 days...). Mr Gioni told us that "theatrical painters" painted the walls. Oh Mr. Gioni, so precise in so many other aspects… we are "Scenic Artists". Sigh, it's a losing battle. Nevermind. On to the next gallery…. I'll be more objective in the next gallery...

In the second gallery comes the controversy - the elephant dung , the virgin and the pimp.  Here we have "Pimpin ain't Easy" and "The Holy Virgin Mary" side by side on the wall for the first time in the US.  Okay, I have to smile.  Anyone who collages Tiger Woods into a painting of a smiling penis with word pimp in the title does not lack for humor. Oh, if we only shared the same penchant for porn… but without that hook to hang it all on I become distracted.  "Mr. Shithead" reminds me of the Pulik.

I start analyzing my fellow museum members by their foot ware (Jeanie Button's advice surfaces soto voce to look at the shoes on the subway and see if you can guess what that person is wearing).  For the women jewelry is out, you are now judged by the height of your stiletto.  The men may have a Patek on their wrists but they're wearing kicks. It's summer.  I think of a recent comment by a visitor who  returns to Aspen because  "Aspen is more diverse than the Hamptons." Hmmm…. 

The dung ball feet on each painting bring to mind Mythbusters. The difference in "polishing the turd" being that Mr. Ofili has used glitter and what I must assume is the same extremely toxic marine resin we used to seal the "Cats" dance floor.

Sadly, for me it did not shock. Perhaps if there had been mobs of protesters blocking the entrance as there were at the Brooklyn Museum, maybe if there was the threat of mad vandalism  (TG for that toxic resin but it does beg the question how much more would the vandalized work have brought at auction?)

maybe if the Aspen Art Museum were faced with the same tooth and claw legal battle for funding then this exhibit would have more punch, more "frisson". But no, here we reserve our protests for tortoises with iPadsHeidi did draw parallels between the tortoise protests and the Ofili protests in her preview talk.  Where are the tortoises of last summer? Oh, where have they gone?

"Frisson" is different in Aspen.

On to the next gallery where the the paintings celebrate Aboriginal dot painting… and I do mean celebrate.

There are too many people in the room these paintings need to breathe. I want to get close. I want to see the light grazing the canvas from an acute angle. I want to back away and see how things change at a distance. I will need to come back later to feel these paintings when there are no stilettos in the room.

There are two more rooms. I don't have pictures for either because as difficult as it was to get a feeling for the first three rooms it's impossible for the next two.  The paintings after 2005- the ones he did in Trinidad- those need time. You need time for your eyes to adjust  from the green glow of the Exit sign in the corridor. You need to be alone so that the amber glow from the other visitor's iPhone doesn't punch the chroma too high. Your brain needs time to decalibrate. This room begs for silence.  It is a closet of the mind. Your mind should be flooded with amber when you walk back into full spectrum light.  It's not a room for preview night.

The final gallery is a room with small portraits hung in a floor to ceiling checkerboard with large squares knocked out. The scale of the room to portraits is perfect.  It's very 18th century. It reminds me of Steadman's Ghosts of Gone Birds.

After revisiting the first gallery I walked down the stairs past the  black velvet rope which cordoned off the upper tier where members of a less modest caliber would be served dinner "with the artist". I flash on Robertson Davies dinner scenes …. the exotic specimen on display…. oh which fork to use... a room flooded with multisyllabic jenga towers…the tightrope of pretension and restraint... perhaps baseball filet mignon caramelized to just the right shade of elephant brown…. little red and green jewels of coulis dotted around matte black desert plates and a bright yellow custard with sugar crystal sparkles … brûlée with a crust you have to  crack with the back of your spoon … tooth and tongue ….???  It did smell delicious from below stairs. Not even cubed crusty cheese and flat sparkling wine for us punters.  I flash back to days in Aspen when privilege was something you hid.  I think back to the days when the punters wouldn't be somewhere they could smell the steak. I flash back to days when circumspection was prudent.  Bread and cake.  Oh well. 

Classism is not a theme in Ofili's work. Sex, Death, Myth those are all there... but upstairs downstairs ?… not so much… Now that would be a brave show for the Aspen Art Museum to intentionally curate in this town. That might reach the level of "frisson" to which the Art Museum aspires.  

No comments: