Post #374 • September 28, 2004, 9:13 AM • 10 Comments
Back in July a reader took me to task for saying unfavorable things, sight unseen, about the Jac Leirner show at MAM. Now I have seen it, in the process of writing about the Consortium grant show for the NYFA article, and I found it boring.
To recap, Leirner has arranged samples from her copious sticker collection into glass vitrines. The museum claims the arrangment as equivalent of formally rigorous abstract paintings, but rendered with readymade materials. It also says, "The work is at once painting-like and sculptural, and it vividly demonstrates how stylized, mass-disseminated systems of information can be made to seem extraordinary and unique."
Tall orders, those, and Leirner doesn't fill them. Formally, the arrangements seemed willy-nilly. I tested this by imagining the arrangements rotated or flipped. Rotation and inversion will usually harm a good work of art, because a good composition, almost by definition, precludes other possible arrangements of the same elements. To my eye, turns and flips in these compositions would produce equivalent experiences for the viewer, both formally and syntactically.
The stickers themselves evince quite a bit of clever, elegant design - I wouldn't call them "extraordinary" - but Leirner gets no credit for that. If anything, arranged thusly among several hundred compatriots, they seem banal. Little visual or poetic synergy exists between adjecent stickers, so their assemblage seems like a storage problem rather than a work of art.
The vitrines allow you to view the arrangments from the back, with the implication that such a view will reward your looking. It does not. From this side, the bold graphics become pale ghosts of themselves, and looking at them this way feels even less compensating than the view from the front. I strain to find anything sculptural about this work, but if I had to guess, I would say that the museum is talking about the vitrines themselves. I found them handsomely built, but if they qualify as sculptural, then so do the frames on paintings.
A press release quotes curator Cheryl Hartup to say "Jac Leirner is one of the most important artists of her generation working in Brazil today" and "a pivotal figure in the history of Brazilian art." If not for the fact that I have learned to reject such statements outright, they would sadden me enormously about the state of art in Brazil.