Explosive fear and beauty

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On the way to the country, I wanted to stop somewhere great. Should I go to Dia:Beacon? or Storm King? or MASS MoCA? (image, Murray approaching the entrance to MASS MoCA). Well that was easy, especially, since the first two are easier to reach in a daytrip, and it’s MASS MoCA that has the kind of work that makes my heart flutter.

So, being the only two people in the world who could get lost in North Adams, Mass., Murray and I had to ask directions! But really, it shouldn’t have been that hard, with signs everywhere. (And when we were done, we took the wrong turn on the way back onto the road!)
The space is beyond impressive, both inside and out.
Inside, the galleries are as huge as the exterior promises. (Am I allowed to mention the can? The sinks look just like sculptor Robert Gober’s. And the stalls are straight out of industrial chic, sheet metal stained with some rust and looking a lot like Penang, the Philadelphia version of the hip restaurant chain with pan-Asian food) (drawing, Robert Gober, “Double Sink”).And speaking of cans, “Bang on a Can” offered some boundary-busting music, including percussionist Michael McCurdy (right) who played Georges Aperghis’ “Graffitis,” an intense percussion and voice piece. McCurdy performed in front of a Neo Rauch painting. This was perfect, given the words were in German and Rauch was surrounded by work from fellow contemporary Leipzig artists. Another gallery in the same exhibit had a group of (aspiring?) poets–it seemed like a class or workshop–reading their works inspired by the paintings to one another. The place was bustling.

The work that most took advantage of the massive spaces was an enormous Chinese dragon of a piece by Cai Guo-Qiang, including an installation with nine cars (Ford Tauruses for he who wants to know) tumbling across the space, emitting sparkly fireworks supplied by bristling fiber-optic cable. “Inopportune,” its title a charming understatement, is Steve McQueen and Chinese scroll painting rolled into one (image, “Inopportune: Stage 1, Nine Cars”).

“Nine Cars” is a dragon emitting fire–decorative, dramatic and horrifying all at once, a moment of error interrupting what was a life and what was a car. The gallery notes invoked 9/11 and the daily car bombings that explode on our television screens. (The notes also inform that the artist’s name is pronounced Tzy –rhymes with pie–Gwoh-Chung).

Cai’s art is based on explosions and fireworks. Here’s a past post by Roberta on his work. And here’s Cai’s website.

“Illusion” is a huge, projected video (no image shown) of another Taurus exploding with fireworks in Times Square at night as people on the street act as if nothing is happening. What’s happening is both beautiful and horrifying, a 90-second disaster that plays through your consciousness in mental slow-motion. The car has a floaty quality as it moves silently through its paces like the World Trade Center explosions with the sound turned off. Cai, born in China and now a New Yorker, must have been puzzled by the unflappable, business-as-usual New Yorkers I grew up with. I remember a man exposing himself on the subway while people looked right through him. Behind the screen is the vehicle itself, its innards–charred cans that held the fireworks–exposed.

“Inopportune: Stage Two” is and installation of nine tigers bristling with arrows, twisting and turning across the gallery, a staged landscape. This too is a 3-D scroll painting to be read by walking along the installation. And it’s theatrical (Cai was trained as a set designer). There’s a reference here to a scroll painting, also on display, of tigers in motion by Cai’s father. But Cai the younger’s tiger is us, the U.S., the paper tiger, struck and looking for a way to strike back (images of installation and detail).

This installation was commissioned by MASS MoCA.

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