You always know when something’s up. When gallery goers spend more time reading captions than looking at the art. When, indeed, whole gallery rooms are bereft of visitors and you have the place to yourself, along with some stretched nylons filled with sand. Nengudi, a ‘key figure in the avant-garde scenes of Los Angeles and New York in the 1960s and 1970s’ is an artist whose ‘work is characterised by a persistently radical experimentation with material and form.’ (Gallery leaflet) Moreover, she is a ‘leading figure of Postminimalism.’ There’s no mention of Berlin here, so I guess she has not yet discovered the Postminimalist wonders of the transatlantic artist’s CV. This show, according to the leaflet, is the first major exhibition of hers outside the U.S.
So, this is a show that definitely needs captions, if only to detain the few viewers it has for a little while longer. Is Postminimalism all about minimal input? Minimal output? Minimal attention? I suppose that at the time of its production, (some of the stuff here goes back to the 60s and 70s) and like Carl Andre’s infamous bricks at the Tate, Nengudi’s work could be seen as heralding a new direction in art. I wonder what it may have looked like if Andre and Nengudi had collaborated. Her ‘Untitled (Water Composition)’ sculpture could have been laid on top of Andre’s bricks. ‘Untitled’ is ‘Made from heat sealed transparent vinyl and filled with coloured water, their abstract forms rest on the floor, on plinths or are fixed to the wall.’ (Gallery leaflet) These forms ‘hang and flop with the weight of a body, mimicking flesh while responding to the viewer’s touch.’ I’m not sure viewers would have been allowed to touch these somewhat fragile looking forms. Anyway, if they had been placed on top of those contemporaneous bricks it may have symbolised the feminine gaining supremacy over a hard, unyielding, regular masculine form. And if they had been placed under the bricks, they would have split, and left the bricks standing in a puddle symbolising a premature ejaculation, the loss of precious bodily fluids undermining, once again the supremacy of the masculine. It would be the triumph of the soft over the hard. (Call this art criticism? What on earth’s going on here?)
Another work, taking up the entire floor of a gallery space, is a layer of sand, with occasional molehills splashed with colours. What looks like the remnants of old car exhaust parts lie or stand around, in what could be reminiscent of a budget disaster movie. All around the molehills are footprints, so this is no raked Zen garden. It’s called ‘Sandmining.’ For a moment I thought visitors might be encouraged to add their own footprints, but the demeanour of the gallery attendant didn’t encourage that line of enquiry.
You may have guessed by now that I did not linger long with Nengudi’s work. But I wouldn’t gainsay the artist’s ‘long-standing interest in the commonalities of different belief systems and pilgrimage.’ They certainly ask two core questions: what is belief in, and what is the pilgrimage? The answers presented here are as mysterious as the questions.