Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Dialogues in Dallas

Let me start this with an apology to the Shreveport Times, which did publish the opinion piece I posted a few days ago. Typically, I receive a phone call of confirmation before publication. As that did not happen this time, I incorrectly assumed that this one would not be published either. There.

The family and I visited the Dallas/Fort Worth area this past weekend, including a trip to the Dallas Museum of Art for the exhibit Dialogues: Duchamp, Cornell, Johns, Rauschenberg. This painfully small exhibit explores the intersections between these iconic modern artists. Duchamp's readymades, Johns' targets, Cornell's boxes are all there. I wouldn't say there is any one seminal work of Rauschenberg's, but there is also a concurrent exhibit of his prints, Artist-Citizen: Posters for a Better World, which highlights some of his classic collage images of the last 40 years or so. Here are some random thoughts:

It was very exciting to see one of Duchamp's original readymades, the bottle drying rack. A note on the piece said that the one displayed replaced the original in 1960. The original dates from 1914. So the original 1914 bottle drying rack, which I assume was a common functional item from the time, was replaced 46 years later by an identical one. Ostensibly, there are still hundreds, maybe thousands, of these items still in circulation, though only these two have been selected to be representative examples of modern art. To many, this would be a perfect example of the frivolousness and irrelevance of modern art. Hell, Duchamp's contrary whimsy would probably come to the same conclusion. It is brilliant, and brings a subversive smile to my face, and doesn't leave me cold and detached the way I feel when I see an Andy Warhol piece, for example.

The spirit of exuberant collaboration is very much celebrated in this exhibit, and it is a spirit I see at work in the Shreveport arts scene right now. It was shared at the time by such figures as composer John Cage and dancer/choreographer Merce Cunningham, and was very much in contrast to the macho, competitive posturing of Pollock, De Kooning and other peers.

Rauschenberg is the Bono of modern art. The prints exhibited show an artist engaged in the global issues of his day, putting his artistic gifts to work on behalf of the large benevolent institutions dealing with human rights, population, housing, etc. He seems to realize, like Bono, that he is an international celebrity of a sort, and to perpetuate an angry young man/pox on all their houses streetwise purity persona would be empty posturing. It would be impossible to imagine the soundtrack of my adolescence without Sunday Bloody Sunday or Pride (In the Name of Love), but it would get old if Bono were still climbing into the rafters with a white flag every concert. In the same way, the prints don't convey the same kind of cathartic thrill of Combine and Bed, to name two seminal Rauschenberg works from the mid-1950's, but they are very effective, beautiful and inspiring comments on the issues addressed.

Well, it's late, I don't know if I'm making any sense at all, and we're leaving for Baton Rouge in less than seven hours. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Peace.


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