Thursday, January 5, 2012

Jim Campbell's "Exploded Views" at SFMOMA

On Monday I wrote about last week's visit to the De Young museum. I made another visit to a Bay Area art museum between Christmas and New Year's Day: SF MOMA, where I was wowed for the second time by an exhibition of Richard Serra's drawings (on offer until the sixteenth of this month; if you haven't seen it yet this is your last call).

I wrote (and vlogged) in late November about Richard Serra's "Sequence" at the Stanford Art Museum, but despite my fascination with this artist's sculpture I did not anticipate how powerful a show made up almost exclusively of simple black shapes mounted in simple white rooms could be. I had to see it to get it ... and the fact I was drawn to return to SF MOMA to see the show again speaks for itself ... well worth the visit if you can get there by the time the exhibit closes.

On our way up SF MOMA's grand staircase, and again on the way down, we spent time watching an installation in the museum's atrium by San Fransisco artist Jim Campbell, Exploded Views.

The installation is a rectangular volume of over 2,800 spherical, white LEDs, in which computer-controlled switching create shadow-images that move hauntingly through the space. To a ground level observer, the shadows play across the volume in seemingly random patterns; but from the first landing of the staircase, at about an equal altitude to Exploded Views, a viewer discovers -- with surprise and delight that replays itself over and over as visitors ascend the staircase -- that the shadows are figures dancing their way through the volume.

(There are four films scheduled for exhibition as the source of the shadow-images in Exploded Views, each to be 'played' for two months, in rotation, over the eight months the piece will remain installed. When I visited late last week, the shadow-figures moving through the installation were filmed in collaboration with Alonzo King's LINES Ballet.)

Here's a video spliced from a number of different angles on Exploded Views, with thanks to painter, blogger, and vlogger Matthew Felix Sun:

A couple of weeks ago a well-read friend took note of the diverse contexts into which I've inserted reference to Milton's Paradise Lost on One Finger Typing. She was commenting on my post Subaru dipsticks, the intertubes, and me (12 Dec 2011), but there was also The Adjustment Bureau meets Paradise Lost, in April of last year.

T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets are another work of poetry that percolate up from the depths of my memory over and again (see Safeguarding cloud ephemera Part II... and Whales at the Field Museum). Watching Jim Campbell's piece I thought of these lines from the first of Eliot's quartets, "Burnt Norton":
Sudden in a shaft of sunlight
Even while the dust moves
There rises the hidden laughter
Of children in the foliage
Quick now, here, now, always --
Ridiculous the waste sad time
Stretching before and after.

The Campbell piece gave me the same sense as Eliot's image: delight, mystery, movement, immediacy. The installation is mesmerizing. I hope you get a chance to see it while Exploded Views is on display in the atrium at SFMOMA, through September 25, 2012.

Thanks to Matthew Felix Sun for his terrific video of Jim Campbell's Exploded Views.

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