Friday, October 11, 2013

Amalia Pica / MCA Chicago

Amalia Pica • Stabile (with confetti) • 2012 • paper & sellotape • dimensions variable
Installation view & detail at Kunst Halle Sankt Gallen, Switzerland • via Herald St

I was recently looking at a website that specializes in selling art. Its fairly detailed cataloging system works well if you are selling Matisse etchings but not so much for today’s art. One of the categories to be filled out for each work is “style.” The style for recently made artworks is “contemporary” which sounds humorously inadequate. After all, doesn’t art today consist of so many different disciplines, genres, media and approaches that it is impossible to think of it as a single style? But if there’s one thing to be gleaned from the wealth of biennials, triennials and art fairs, it’s that contemporary art most definitely has a “look.” It’s a style composed of clever gestures and smart moves. Working across multiple disciplines and media is an aesthetic position.

In her exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, Amalia Pica has the look down, utilizing various materials, most of which are humble and everyday, to construct her slight gestures. The exhibition is remarkable because it so dutifully and flawlessly touches on all the right points necessary for a solid contemporary art practice: Performance and participation, personal biography connected to broader political history, obsolete technology deployed as signifier. It all works together too well, which is why it feels so flat and lifeless as a whole.

Amalia Pica • Moon Golem • 2009
Found photograph, etched glass, mirror, plinth & lamp
Installation view at Hayward Gallery Project Space, London
via The Project Space
Much of Pica’s work amounts to illustrations for stories she’s researched. (Research, another contemporary art attribute.) Often what is referenced is more powerful than the artwork that is referencing it. For instance in Moon Golem (2009) a small round mirror is placed on a plinth so that it bounces a spotlight onto the center of a photograph hanging on the wall before it. The image is of a tiny metal figure on the surface of the Moon. An accompanying wall text, which is also part of the piece, tells the story of how this statue was commissioned from the artist Paul van Hoeydonck by the astronaut David Scott to commemorate all the astronauts who died in mankind’s quest to reach the stars. In 1971 the statue, along with a plaque listing fallen astronauts and cosmonauts, was snuck aboard the Apollo 15 and brought to the Moon. The crew only revealed the project after returning to Earth.

The statue, Fallen Astronaut, and the effort to get it to the Moon is the art. Pica is just pointing to it. It’s much more interesting to think about how this is the least public monument ever created, not only is it miniscule, it’s not even on Earth. That this piece brings such a captivating story to our attention is of value, but why did it need to be an artwork? Or more accurately, why did it need to be told in this way?

Pica is at her strongest is when she confines herself to a simple gesture that packs a wallop. The standout work in the show and one of the most memorable pieces of late is Stabile (with confetti) #2 (2012). A mass of confetti has been scattered onto the floor of the gallery. Each little circle of colored paper has then been taped down. The initial chaotic act of tossing a handful of colored discs has been frozen. Viewers walk through the space and the air currents flow, but rather than being carried along by such forces, the confetti stays put. There is an interesting tension in the level of effort. I would describe the effort to individually secure hundreds of small pieces of paper to the floor with strips of transparent tape as “painstaking”. But it’s just tape and some cheap confetti you’d get from a party store. Still, the space is activated by the haphazard arrangement, disrupting all the other works of Pica’s, which no matter how casual they try to be, reek of being carefully placed “just so”.

What makes Stabile so good is that it's risky. It might be stupid. And it kind of is. And that’s invigorating. It’s not weighed down by references to history or literature, it hasn’t been overly conceived, it’s a simple gesture that gives us room as viewers to experience and contemplate what's in front of us.

1 comment:

Nashi said...

I perfectly agree with you. Contemporary art most definitely has a “look.”Which is why I love abstract paintings.