Thursday, December 13, 2007

A somewhat crude gallery visit...

If anyone were to lament the lack of political art in the interesting times we live in, there sure is a surfeit of it at the Daneyal Mahmood gallery in Chelsea. Done by a Russian artist, Andrei Molodkin, the exhibition titled 'Sweet Crude American Dream' is a cunning pun on two phrases ‘sweet light crude’ (the filet mignon cut from the fractional distillation of crude oil) and the often clichĂ©d 'American Dream'. Of course, it is another matter all together that the aforementioned dream is currently riding somewhat blindfolded atop the gusher that is purported to fizzle down to a trickle in a little over a century. Two installation pieces, both critical of the current administration are the centerpieces of the show. While the message is clear, one fears that the theatrics involved in setting up the elaborate apparatus on the gallery floor might unnerve the senses a bit (sometimes too much clarity might dull introspection).

Exhibit one is an installation piece consisting of about 450 feet of PVC tubing connecting pumps, intermediary equipment and oil barrel containing crude oil. The tubing snakes its way all around the gallery floor, ceiling and rafters and is crowned with a light box that projects the moments before Saddam's execution. The smell of crude is overpowering yet strangely mesmerizing (they seem to have used sweet crude as opposed to the sour crude which has higher percentages of sulphides and is supposed to smell like rotten eggs). The message is fairly clear - the invasion and the execution of Saddam seems to have been driven by one thing and only one - the stuff that flows silently in the PVC plumbing in the gallery space. I must say it was a little too much for me in its reality and starkness - maybe that is what the artist wanted.

Exhibit two is a little more ironic and is a humorous word play that is sinister in its overtones. Two panels, one containing the Sotheby’s description of the infamous Jeff Koon’s 'Hanging heart' exhibit and a second panel that contains subverted/substituted text from the first in a humorous yet meaningful way.

The original text reads as follows:

There is an enormous amount of excitement in the Sotheby's building at the moment because we are able to realize one of the most important works by Jeff Koons Hanging Heart. It looks like it came from out of space. It has an absolute surreality about it, for you almost think that it cannot be so perfect. The hanging heart was part of a celebrations series that was conceived in 1994 but it took Koons an enormous amount of time to make, because he was so obsessive about perfection. The technical requirements of realizing this work were so complex and so involved that he postponed, and postponed and postponed it. When we finally saw it, it was like going to Santa's workshop, one of the biggest moments Sotheby's had for hanging out a work of art was hoping that the emotions would bring out this incredible 'whoa'. -- Sotheby's, November 2007

Now the substitution:

There is an enormous amount of excitement in the White House at the moment because we are able to realize one of the most important works by G.W. Bush - hanging Saddam. It looks like it came from out of space. It has an absolute surreality about it, for you almost think that it cannot be so perfect. The hanging heart was part of a celebrations series that was conceived in 1994 but it took Bush an enormous amount of time to make, because he was so obsessive about perfection. The technical requirements of realizing this work were so complex and so involved that he postponed, and postponed and postponed it. When we finally saw it, it was like going to Santa's workshop, one of the biggest moments Bush had for hanging Saddam was hoping that the emotions would bring out this incredible 'whoa'. -- Copycats, November 2007

Of course, the text also included an obligatory pair of PVC hearts that suspiciously looked like it had been filled with some more left over crude spilt from the Total barrel conspicuously present on the gallery floor. Overall, well worth a visit – if not for the smell or the theatrics, at least for the post-visit reflection on our current state.

Crude oil pumped through 450 feet of PVC plumbing with the Saddam execution lightbox in the background


Detail of lightbox

Hanging Heart installation

Detail of hanging heart

3 comments:

Jafabrit said...

I am soooooooo jealous! You are able to see some really interesting thought provoking shows. Really enjoyed your entry about it and letting someone stuck in the middle of ohio see a glimpse.

regards
corrine

Anonymous said...

Hi,

Thanks for this great write-up, we are glad you enjoyed the show.
Wait until you see our February exhibition ;)

best,
Dalit

Daneyal Mahmood Gallery

Anonymous said...

I love this gallery, one of the few left in Chelsea with any balls.(nice review by the way)
jbhoboken