From Classical to Candy-Colored New
Of the major art institutions in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, the architecture of the Dallas Museum of Art is the most lackluster. If you're trying to entice friends from either coast to come to the area for a visit, you tout the DMA's collection of contemporary art and its general social chutzpah rather than its architectural form. What goes on under the much-vaunted barrel vault is certainly more interesting than its ho-hum architectural reference to the past. The Romans may have invented the barrel vault, but they didn't intend for it to be a ready-made signifier of culture some 2,000 years later. While for the Romans it offered a pragmatic structural solution, for postmodern architects working in the 1980s and '90s it was meant to reinvest architecture with "meaning," to reinstate the validity of a profession fast going the way of the dinosaur. Its structure may be lofty, but it is nothing new. It is a nostalgic ruin in a city more invested in expanding its territory by way of current architectural readymades--sprawl, big-box discount retailers and ye olde "village" development--than true architectural invention. In short, the barrel vault of the DMA is a grand public mea culpa made in the face of the profession's rising decrepitude.
Who would have thought that an artist working in the medium of masking tape could change all that? Suzanne Weaver--the associate curator of contemporary art at the DMA who brought Jim Lambie to town. Lambie, the Glasgow-based installation artist and sculptor whose work is showing in Concentrations 47 through August 21, has transformed the regurgitated classicism of the barrel vault into a color-clad volume of disco delight. Sticking industrial-grade vinyl tape on the floor and orchestrating sundry materials in four small sculptural pieces, Lambie has invented the space of the DMA anew. He has wackily transformed its architectural volumetric by way of the flatness of colored tape on flat surfaces. In a feat more in keeping with Dallas' true spirit than old-world classicism could ever be, he has made topsy-turvy three-dimensional space out of rainbow-colored surface cladding. His is an aesthetic of candy-wrapper novelty so fit for the forever-new Dallas urban fabric that it shouldn't be removed. Lambie the conceptual artist has improved the architecture of the DMA.
There are five pieces by Lambie showing: one installation of multicolored tape on the floor of the main corridor and the first gallery of contemporary art, and four works of sculpture. In varying sizes and an array of colors (red, yellow, blue, black and white), the tape covers the floor of the hall, abutting concrete and glass walls on one side and elevators and gallery entrance on the other. Like color-coded lines running under foot along hospital hallways, Lambie's tape functions as a kind of guide that leads you down the hall from the barrel vault to the collective contemporary space. Lambie's stripy floor gracefully pulls you into the space by way of visual awe and wonderment while destabilizing your sense of perceptual balance. Juanita Cabrera, gallery attendant, explained that she had to shepherd older and disabled patrons through the work with great caution and care, warning them to grasp railings along the wall as they walk through en route to the sculpture garden and exits at the end of the corridor.
Titled "Zobop," the taped-floor installation is mesmerizing and vertiginous in effect. Stuck on the floor by an atelier of artists working under the leadership of Lambie, the tape has been placed with absolute technical precision. In placement, they correspond to distinct architectural elements of the building. Long stripes emerge perpendicularly out from the main hall, signaling the elevators to the left. Tape reverberates in curving fashion around the circular electrical outlets on the floor in the opposite corner. Inside the gallery space, tape manipulated in circles and abstract geometries fools the eye, inclining one to step downward when the floor is in fact flat.
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Flowing into the first room of the greater contemporary space, the tape leads you to four coordinating sculpture works. Most striking of them is "18 Carrots," a bushel of just that placed on a console on the facing wall. In a twisted and comical reference to Jackson Pollock's practices of painterly spontaneity, Lambie has splattered bright orange paint on the wall and floor next to a pile of carrots.
On the adjacent walls there are two works facing each other, "Psychedelic Soul Stick" leaning to the left and "The Doors (Morrison Hotel)" mounted on the right. The weakest link in the show, "Psychedelic Soul Stick" is a branch-like stick wrapped in colorful string. The vague references to shamanism in this piece reveal a shop-girl kind of spiritualism in Lambie's work, what we once described in terms of "hippie" culture. The current of hippie spiritualism in Lambie's work only detracts from the more profound references to Minimalism. At the same time, the vague sense of dreamy mysticism could be seen as a force kindred to the metaphysical ideas of "infinity" and "repetition" in the cubes of Sol Lewitt. Borrowing from Minimalism the tropes of repetition, dumb industrial-grade materials (wood and acrylic paint), "The Doors" is a shiny sculpture of tightly jagged-edged doors, sutured together with mirrors on top. The seriousness of Minimalism is deflated by its lavender color. The mirrors reflect edgy light and shadow forms on the wall behind and above the piece, creating a thought bubble-like form that is equal parts Lichtenstein and early Smithson.
The fourth piece, "Shake, Shake, Shake," hangs overhead just above the threshold of the gallery space. In this piece, two yellow stereo speakers are fixed back-to-back and covered in a miniature mosaic of broken glass. Two eyes have been cut from a photograph and mounted in an almost kitschy découpage fashion onto the yellow speakers. When looked at directly overhead, the striations of the floor appear reflected above in craggy and uneven slivers on the tesserae of broken glass.
Lambie's work reflects both formally and intellectually the Minimalism of the 1960s, the work of Judd, Serra and André in particular. From Judd and Serra he has inherited a fondness for repetition and basic industrial materials that is perhaps most overt in his use of vinyl tape on the floor. And from André he has taken the fascination with "floorness," transforming art into something both experimental and profane--such as "Zobop," which is literally a flat object upon which you walk. Marking a wink and nudge to Pop art present and past, the bright colors of his palette bring both candor and lightness to the overall installation.
Though we might wish the taped elements of the show to stay forever plastered on the floors of the museum, part of its genius is that it is temporary and virtually uncollectible. It might be very Dallas in its slick play of facades and colorful joi de vivre, but its transiency is a blunt rejection of our local culture of consumption, acquisition and collecting. The passing nature of the tape--that it has been installed, will be removed and likely thrown out--speaks to our use-it-up who-cares-about-tomorrow culture. As such, the banal tape installation takes on subtle political innuendo, fortifying the overall playfulness of the piece with a bulwark of art-market critique. As the latest show in the Concentrations series, Concentrations 47: Jim Lambie ranks very high. It is the best showing in the last 18 months of the ongoing series. What sets it slightly above the others is its energetic and cunning edginess--the way in which it confronts percipients, demanding a bodily reaction from them through bright color and its enveloping everywhere-ness.
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