By Anna Reser
The contemporary and modern galleries at the Seattle Art Museum are firmly focused on the post-war period, highlighting some of the best works of art after modernism with a west-coast flavor. The connections that many of the works and artists on view have to the science and technology of the second half of the 20th century lies just under the surface, threaded through the travelling pieces and a judicious selection from the permanent collection.
Along a hallway leading away from the romantic landscapes on the south end, a small exhibit called “Rebel Rebel” contains two works by Ann Leda Shapiro. Woman Landing on Man in the Moon from 1971 is perhaps the best expression I’ve seen of the frustration and alienation felt by many in the US at their apparent exclusion from the luminous, liberated future promised by the American space program. For women in space exploration and other scientific and technical professions in the 1960's and 70's, Shapiro’s warning that “one needs a cock to get by” certainly held true. The trail of penis shaped rockets swirling around the central figure are a reminder that rocket science has always been a man’s game.
The series House Beautiful: Bringing the War Home by Martha Rosler is a collection of photomontages and videos that mash up the glossy pages of decorating magazines with the high-tech horror of war. The wryness of Schapiro's watercolor paintings is in Rosler's series as well, sharpened in photographic grain and tinged with the tragedy of a devastating war obscured by homeland prosperity and the distractions of consumerism.
In another room is a collection of “Light and Space” minimalism so spare that it’s almost hard to get a visual grip on the works. A blue acrylic and stainless steel Donald Judd (1967) is placed alongside a work in flat orange and brass that seems to heat up the back wall. A prismatic Robert Irwin Pillar (Column) (2011) slices up the air as you move around it and scatters long spears of light across the floor.
Robert Rauschenberg’s Cardbirds (1971) are the highlight of his small room, and probably the overall best thing I saw. There is ample opportunity to be reminded of the artist’s enduring interest in technology, especially in Manuscript (1963). Just next door is a handful of readymades and found image works organized under “The Duchamp Effect.” Robert Gober’s handmade Urinal (1984) is a strangely sensual counterpoint to the finish fetish adoration of the mass-production echoed by the “Light and Space” works in the next room.
Much of the formal and conceptual concerns that contemporary science and technology art is built on are on view in these foundational works. The fierceness of the dissent registered by the women artists against the techno-scientific excesses of the post-war period actually makes Judd and his work look complicit with their pursuit of the aesthetic pleasures of the high-tech.
Most exhibits on view until July, 2016, “Light and Space” until November 2016
Our DECEMBER issue is live!