Art explosions

I have been sick with a tedious mono for a while. Sickness confined me in the house most of the day. Except for venturing out a few hours to teach, I did not do much in the last month. I did not feel inspired to write either, call it lack of stimuli.

Today I dragged myself together and visited the Museum of Herzelya for the first time. What a nice surprise! The unpromising, gray and somehow  severe building hides a surprisingly good exhibition, titled “Manimal“: a journey through works of art centered on the relationship between animals and men. The opening hall displays some interesting loans of Yossi Milo’s gallery in New York: a series of large format portraits of a peculiar African tribe, equally composed by men, baboons and hyenas. The following rooms are a collection of video art pieces, true to the spirit of the museum, which has been awarding a special interest to this relatively new form of artistic expression.

What really blew me off, however, was a piece which had little to do with the main animal-man theme. Calling it a “piece” almost constitutes heresy, since the installation takes over the biggest room of the museum, towards the end of the exhibition path. Spoiler alert: if you are thinking of going to visit the exhibition yourself, please come back later to this. Allow yourself to be surprised.

The title of the work I am referring to is “Explosion”, by Mexican artist Carlos Amorales. What stroke me instantly was the magnitude of the installation. An image will speak better than words:

A visitor mesmerized by Amorales’ Explosion

The “Explosion” refers to the figurative momentum of the work, but also to its intrinsic qualities. It is hard not to be impacted strongly and instantaneously by the sight of this artwork. With its thousands pieces of shiny black resin hanging from the ceiling, thanks to an unobtrusive wiring system, the effect of the work is powerful. The fragments are not completely still: the visitor’s eye adjusts to continues changes of angle, while the smooth surface of each piece reflects the others in variable ways. Walking around the perimeter of observation, one’s point of view changes the perception of the work, revealing the complexity of the relations of each piece with the whole. It represents a grandiose exemplification of interdependence.

Here is an excerpt from the words of the curator:

“The work is made entirely of pieces of material detached from any source or context; refractions of light and form, splinters of body and meaning. It conceals great violence, which nevertheless remains unrealized. It seems to freeze one moment in the process of explosion, a moment which oscillates between the energetic cohesion that has held all the different elements in a single body, and final scattering and loss, as in the supernova effect where a massive star explodes because the internal pressure caused by nuclear fusion outward is insufficient to balance the great pull of gravity inward. ” [curator Hadas Maor]

Time truly stops in the presence of this work. Like in a giant stop-frame of a science fiction movie, where we are given to witness and scrutinize the moment of an explosion, well after the form is gone, but before the scattered pieces will touch the ground. Although visitors are not allowed under the mobile, the feeling is that of being inside the explosion, unharmed but deeply affected.

The size of the project and the genuinely enthusiastic response of the public made me think of another work I have seen recently, in the Tel Aviv Museum of Art: the ecstatic field of cutout flowers by Israeli artist Zadok Ben-David.

Visitors at Ben David’s solo exhibition

The wide sand field hosted the dazzling number of 20,000 iron cutouts of defined, specified flowers, each one with its own detailed personality. Also in this project, perspective changes the experience of the work dramatically: the field which first presents itself as a black, monochrome collection of flowers, explodes in a myriad of colors when the visitor gets to see the other side of the silhouettes. The moment of transitioning was for me a powerful revelation, of the kind you don’t easily forget. And I was not alone: you just had to see people’s faces. Never did I see such popular affluence at the museum. Never did I see visitors reacting in such a childish, spontaneous, unsophisticated and liberated way to a work of art. It was deeply refreshing. We forget that “wonderful” really means “full of wonder”.

Someone read this work of Ben-David as a paraphrase of the myth of making the desert blossom. It is an interesting interpretation, retrospectively. However, what I really valued in both works was the opportunity of enjoying art directly: for the eyes, for the spirit, for the heart. Not for the brain. In a small scale, it is like experiencing the difference between talking about enlightening, and actually going through one.

I have to thank both Carlos Amorales and Zarok Ben-David for that.

“Manimal” is an exhibition running from April to July 31th, 2010.

Herzliya Museum for contemporary art – 4 Ha’banim St., Herzliya
Opening Hours

Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday 10:00-14:00

Tuesday, Thursday 16:00-20:00

Sundays – closed

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