There isn’t much in this world as variable in terms of quality and meaning as contemporary art. Some pieces are sublime; others provoke no response at all. I visit Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art (free on Thursday evenings) several times a year and for all of their major shows. If the work doesn’t resonate, I can be in and out in half and hour. If it’s profound, the ICA can be a great place to view interesting art.
Last Thursday was the first time I visited the ICA while a major show was being installed. Only half the galleries were open. I figured it would be a short visit. I revisited my favorites from the permanent collection. Nothing much caught my attention until I came to the last gallery and happened upon Nathalie Djurberg and Hans Berg’s A World of Glass. Everything I love and loathe about contemporary art filled that one gallery, cheek by jowl.
The room is planted black, In the middle are four large black tables littered with fascinating pieces of glass. I thought the artists had raided my grandmother’s sideboard, stolen all of her candy dishes, and absconded with her decanters. Upon closer inspection, each piece was misshapen, sagging, or otherwise imperfect. But the imperfections actually drew me consider each object more intimately. Collectively, the assorted pieces created a dazzling ensemble of frosted and clear glass, distinct shimmers in the black space.
One each of the four walls Claymation style animated videos played in rotation. The glass objects were included the videos, as well as crude animals, coarse people, and acts of violence and sexuality that necessitated a parental advisory outside the gallery door.
I loved the glass pieces. I abhorred the videos. I couldn’t imagine what they had to do with each other. After watching a clay donkey decapitate a clay woman (or something like that) I took a few conscious breaths and realized that I could stand at certain angles and avoid the videos glare. In those spots the glass was amazing. When I allowed the videos to enter into my field of vision, or consciousness, I lost my concentration on the sculptures. Every other person in the gallery was watching the videos. Interest in actual objects is a minority position.
Go see A World of Glass. Just ignore the images on the wall and concentrate on the real things.