Lowe’s artifice and Wall’s too

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I was at the PMA today spending time with the lovely Pontormo and Bronzino portraits of those wacky Medicis. Great works and paradigms of sensitive depictions of people. Interested in portraiture? Rush on over.

After finishing with the 1550s crowd, I went downstairs to the Contemporary Galleries to see Bill Viola’s video “The Greeting” a delectible side dish to the old masters’ show. (The ten-minute slow motion video is based on a Pontormo painting of the biblical “Visitation,” when the pregnant Mary gets a visit from St. Ann.)

Before hitting the Viola, I snuck into the gallery next door to see if they had put up anything new — you have to stay on your toes because the Contemporary Department loves to mix up its installation — an entirely excellent thing to do.

Lo and behold, Tristin Lowe‘s “Untitled (Dysfunctional Chair)” 2004 is sitting there in all its forlorn, squashed splendor. Quel surprise! Libby told you about the lowly broken down object when it appeared last summer in the Vox Populi Big Nothing show,”Erasure.” (Read) The piece also appeared in Lowe’s solo exhibit at Girard College over the summer. But it’s such a demure, ordinary looking thing I almost tripped over it at Girard while gawking at the giant Alice and other oversized wonders in the oversized room. (Read)

The chair looks perfect in its corner near the Jeff Wall 1992 light box “Dead Troops Talk (A vision after an ambush of a Red Army Patrol near Moqor, Afghanistan, Winter, 1986).” Both objects are complete mirages — they seem to be literally what they are (a broken chair, a photograph of soldiers on a battlefield) but they are fabrications whose artificiality is sneaky and eloquent, and whose raisons d’etre are to be existential and questioning; humanist and provocative. The label on the Lowe work said “Private Collection” and I believe that means it’s a gift or purchase from a Private Collection. Here’s a cheer for Lowe — and for the PMA for putting a work by a Philadelphia artist out there with the big guys — in addition to Wall, Gerhard Richter is in the same room.

Back to Viola, his ten minute work, “The Greeting” was great to see again. (I’d seen it at the Fabric Workshop many years ago and at the Whitney, which owns it). While the extremely slow video (45 seconds of footage translated into a ten minute movie) kind of feels like watching paint dry, it’s a beaut and quite mysterious and monumental.

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