Monday, June 20, 2011

The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Alexander McQueen, Savage Beauty+Richard Serra Drawings A Retrospective/The New Museum: Gustav Metzger Historic Photo

Alexander McQueen, Savage Beauty

The Alexander McQueen show at The Met is all the rage. The ingredients of Lady Gaga, post recession escapism, the tragic suicide of an enfant genius, and general fashion-smashion, mixed with a well treaded yet grand institution equals the most delish blockbuster cake. People; rich, poor, New Yorkers, tourists, suburbanites, professors, feminists, moms, boyfriends, college kids, they are all waiting in line to see this “amazing” show. It is a cultural spectacle and a coups d'├ętat for The Met. McQueen was truly gifted in the craft of making clothes. He wasn’t ever normal though and he upped it with his use of incongruous materials such as razor clam shells, wood, bone etc. His interests, nay obsessions, lay in the macabre; Jack the Ripper inspired clothes in his graduate years, head gear resembling the torture device the Iron Maiden, and the impossible shoes echoing the bound feet of Chinese courtesans. In all his clothes and their accoutrements there is sex. With their razor sharp tailoring and fetishistic accessories, these clothes are made to whet. The display was over the top, absurd at points, a fashion haunted house for the masses. Who can say what the alternative should have been…the sheer volume and density of people shuffling tightly along to see the many displays is an unenviable task of corralling. The clothes. The clothes are amazing. Seeing the videos of his shows and also a hologram of Kate Moss as a light/cloud/angel/goddess/fairy gave breath and movement to the clothes and to see the illusions and the drama of these presentations is wondrous. The only negative remark is McQueen’s pants. There is something about the limp verticality of them that made it too Saks, the idea of rich, boring, tucking up women being the lucky few who are able to wear the more reasonable cuts makes the heart plunge. If McQueen were alive, would this show have such a clamor? Who knows, who cares, it is a revelation in high fashion and anyone, even him, would be flattered by the snaking lines which perhaps contains the next daring and brilliant designer.

Richard Serra Drawings: A Retrospective

Across the way on the same floor as the McQueen show is Richard Serra’s drawing retrospective. The godfather, the tough uncle, the dad who uses the belt to contemporary sculpture is in full glory with these massive drawings that are uncanny in their nowness. Spanning thirty years, starting in the 1970s, these drawings are black, the blackest black imagined. They are done with paint stick, a very fat pastel but oil based. They leak the smell of this oil, of a cauterized rubber. The drawings are in the Serra scale; large and in charge. They block out the entrance to a shed, a house, a church. Their immense size is not oppressive though, there is a weight to them, an un-negotiated presence but they are not bullying you. They do not push the viewer around but draws you closer to its never dry, absorbing surface. The shapes are simple; rectangles, tipped over squares, there are less successful circles and curves, all the forms are basic but necessary to delineate a limitation to the layers of black paint stick which in some accumulates to small tufts. The titles of these works are mostly reductive, such as Abstract Slavery, but let’s skip over that human error and take in the mediated awesomeness of these works. Standing between two massive black squares that are touching the corners of two opposing walls, you in the middle, you feel like Alice in a minimalist rabbit hole. When standing in front of the even more massive rectangle of the densest blackness stapled to the wall in the middle of a tall room, you think, this is what Rothko was trying to get at. The sparseness of visitors in contrast to the show across the way is telling of certain things, but this show benefits from the lack of bombast that is at times crippling in Serra’s shows.

Gustav Metzger: Historic Photographs

Gustav Metzger’s current show at The New Museum is fatal. It is so heavy handed it makes Christian Boltanski look like he’s telling fairy tales. This eighty something year old artist has been given his first solo museum show in the US under the curatorship of Massimiliano Gioni, who was recently made head curator of this institution. In a recent profile in New York Magazine, Gioni basically states that he doesn’t care about blockbuster shows, popular shows, for the money and limelight shows. Understood, respected, highly anticipated, but Mr. Gioni, this show is an utter downer. Metzger has blown up photographs of war atrocities, Hitler, Palestine, Vietnam, all the goodies are there and then he matches these with minimal solid colored structures; a gray square, a yellow cloth, a curtain, a smashed red car. These one to ones are simplistic and although exercises in participation and or tactility of the atrocity, what they really add up to are un-clever props for a boring self-serious play. The downer effect is not just due to the subject matter; political art should be made, and can be made with umph and relevance, but this exhibition is veering on glib. It will be a dour future for this museum if this is the direction is continues to pave.