Don’t we feel french and hip? The 1938 International Surrealism Exhibiton in Paris was another seminal moment in installation art history. First of all, in light of my last post about “Womanhouse,” I would like to point out that I cannot find record of a single female artist who was shown at the 1938 surrealism exhibition, even though there were plenty of women surrealist artists active during this period. Don’t get me started.
The exhibition was organized by french authors Andre Breton and Paul Eluard. Marcel Duchamp curated. The technical crew included Salvador Dali, Max Ernst, Man Ray, and Wolfgang Paalen.
Up until then art had been shown primarily in white-walled rooms. Breton and Eluard wanted to up the ante and make the rooms reflect the paintings. They created an exhibit with three main rooms: the entryway, which had an installtion by Salvador Dali, “Rainy Taxi.” The ivy-laced car had a mannequin inside and was sprayed with water throughout the exhibition:
The next room was a large hallway, “The most beautiful streets in Paris,” filled with more mannequins and street signs:
The last room, designed by Duchamp, had hundreds of coal bags, filled with newspaper, hung from the ceiling. On the opening night of the exhibit, the lighting failed and they handed out flashlights to the patrons to view the art on the walls.
The opening was attended by a large contingent of high-society art hangers-on from all over the continent and the United States. Another element that the 1938 Surrealist Exhibition pioneered was the use of performance at an exhibition. Dali was responsible for actor Helene Vanel’s naked mud puddle performance.
This exhibit marked a turning point in the presentation of contemporary art. Nowadays any artist worth their weight in salt gives much thought to how and when their artwork is presented. Furthermore, installation art grew out of the thought behind this exhibition. The artist may create works for sale for a patron to take home, but an artist also can create a site-based sensory experience that cannot be recreated exactly the same way in a different location. Though an installation may travel from location to location, the artist must be present at each venue to install it.
Furthermore, adding an element of performance to the exhibition was way ahead of its time. After attending many, many art openings, I can say that adding an element of performance and surprise is always welcome to the rather one-note feel of a typical exhibition.
The 1938 Surrealist Exhibition paved the way for the performance and installation art the was so prevalent in the 1960s. We still are feeling its pulse in the interactive installations we are creating at WNMU using recently developed technology such as the arduino and IDEs such as Processing and PD. Art is no longer a framed object on a wall, or a sculpture on a pedestal, but a holistic experience.
Instead of writing about an individual installation artist, this time I am going to write about a seminal installation event: “Womanhouse,” which was exhibited in Los Angeles, California, in 1972. Below is a photo of the artists.
I’ve heard this installation referred to as “the first feminist exhibit,” which I am not going to research to see if this is indeed true, but it was a major feminist exhibition for its time. It was organized by Judy Chicago and Miriam Shapiro, who together founded the CalArts Feminist Art Program. Judy Chicago would later become well known for her most famous installation, “Dinner Party,” which is worth looking up on its own.
However, I chose to write about this piece because of its collaborative nature and its location. The artists chose a dilapidated house in LA destined for demolition and took it over for the installation. Twenty-one women each chose one room to take over for her individual work.
The installation was clearly wrapped in very tightly with the location; it would have required a lot of adjustments to do it somewhere else. There were also performances as part of its monthlong exhibition.
The idea behind this installation – that women have been tied domestically to the home for thousands of years and this bears illumination – is one that still resonates. Most women I know still do the bulk of housework and care for domestic matters way more than their male partners, if they have one. Even single women I know base their identity somewhat on the domestic abilities. Clearly, the artists involved in this exhibit understood that very well.
The exhibition of this installation was open to women only on the first day. I wish I could have been there. It hadn’t occurred to me to make any exhibition of my own work available to a selection of the population, and the idea of doing that fits well conceptually with installation work, which bucks by definition the traditional hanging on a white wall with gazing passersby type of exhibition. Installations draw in the viewer to the interior, to a total experience, and often the viewer’s participation changes the particulars or the tenor of the exhibit.
There is a documentary about this exhibit, and I would really like to see it. Johanna Demetrakas is the filmmaker, it came out in 1974, and is simply called, “Womanhouse.”
I’m trying to remember how I found out about Sarah Sze. I’m pretty sure it was from my Women in Art History class last semester. I did a search for “women installation artists” and was like, whoa, how come I hadn’t heard about her already? Likely answer: I’m a newbie art undergrad. She’s pretty famous.
Sarah Sze is an American artist, born in 1969, works and lives in New York, has a BA from Yale in 1991 and an MFA from the School of the Visual Arts (1997). Her resume reads like an artist’s fantasy. She shows internationally constantly and has her work in many galleries and museums all over the place (see bottom of article). Probably one of the most unique locations is on the High Line in New York City, which Anna, Peter & I had the pleasure of visiting last year. The photo below, though, is from an exhibit in Brazil.
Photo: Sarah Sze “Everything In the Right Place” 2002, Brazil Bienal
Her work is fun, whimsical, and uses everyday objects, plants, fans… she runs the gamut in her materials. Her works seem to stretch through the spaces where they are installed, with many points of interest and activity. I really like her use of line, shape, and color. Her work makes me feel like I am at a birthday party – it is happy, exuberant, and pulling together many elements of life. In the Art in America Magazine article linked below, she says, “I’m interested in painting, sculpture, photography, architecture—bleeding them together in a practice that’s inextricable for me.” It’s always interesting to read interviews with artists, rather than read articles written about them. Art criticism is rarely done well (read: boring), and as I look through different articles, it’s clear they often rip each other off trying to come up with something to say that doesn’t venture too far from the norm.
Soooo – with that in mind, I may vote to shut up now and let you look at her work for yourself and read an article where she is interviewed.
Museum of Modern Art, New York
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
Guggenheim Museum, New York
The New Museum, New York
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA
Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CA
Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, San Diego, CA
Detroit Institute of Art, Detroit, MI
Albright Knox Gallery, Buffalo, NY
Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN
National Gallery of Victoria, Australia
Cartier Foundation, Paris, France
21st Century Museum of Art, Kanazawa, Japan
Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA
Fogg Museum of Art, Boston, MA
Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, Chicago, IL
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa
for space/place assignment, read this(warning: its pretty hard stuff):
While in LA for the All of Art History In 6 Days class, we visited Watts Towers, such an inspiration for people who have nothing making epic art for the mission of it. Somebody has been doing that in Manhattan, too. Sorry to not see it when I was out there.
I just spent a solid week in Los Angeles looking at art, from the Stone Age to stuff made this year. One piece of art at the LACMA made a very strong impression on me, I spent several minutes looking at it from every angle, absorbing it, interacting with it, photographing it, and revisited it 2 more times while at the museum. The second I saw it, I said “ooohhh” and made a beeline for it. The piece was an outdoor installation of dangling yellow tubes that you could walk through like a rack of hanging spaghetti. The area was full of kids, running, swinging, and hiding in the tubes like little fish in a sea anemone. As near I can tell, this piece had no message other than to be fun. As I looked at art over the weekend, and thought about what my own art direction will be, I can say with certainty that I want to make art that is fun.
Penetrabile by Jesus Rafeael Soto
Daughters, sixteen, travel, river…to the river, boy, tails…fish-mermen!, whispers, make love, return, twelve days – no! – months, giving birth, babies, lullaby, anxious, sons, the first…
Full moon, travel to the river, sons, flow, cry, fathers, cry, and cry, and whispering, weeping, next-full moon, weeping, sons mothers, washing the hair, smell, mother, weeping, next full moon, repeat…