Dan Graham, Triangular Solid with Circular Inserts, 1989
(installed at Peggy Guggenheim, Venice)
Over the last couple of posts we’ve kind of established that reflections can be confusing and can change the way we experience space. But regular readers must know by now that once I’ve caught hold of a thread I’ll pull at it just that bit longer than is reasonable so today is, um, well, more of the same really. Sorry about that.
Much of Dan Graham’s work, in particular his two-way mirror pavilions – could be seen as architecture as well as art. The pavilions are small glass structures which are usually partly made of mirrored glass which confuses the way the structure reflects the environment it sits in. The effect of this is that people are prone to wandering in and out of view unexpectedly and the space seems to change as one walks round or through the structure.
Anish Kapoor, Vertigo and Non-Object (Pole), both 2008
On one level, this is probably the most inappropriately titled post I’ve written. Anish Kapoor’s work is, in my view at least, usually very far from down to earth. At its best, Kapoor’s work is extraordinary; it can redefine the space it occupies and disorientate, baffle and sometimes entertain its viewers. But – with the notable exception of the quietly beautiful, and easily overlooked, pregnant wall pieces – subtle it ain’t. Pompous, yes. Excessive, certainly. Subtle, not so much.
To start with the entertaining, by bringing strangely distorting mirrored surfaces into the gallery space, Kapoor entices his audience to pose and play. This is art crossed with the funfair in the form of the hall of mirrors and it’s hard not to be beguiled by the result. Moving backwards and forwards before the mirrors, we might get fatter and thinner or be turned upside down. The results aren’t exactly profound but they are both beautiful and good fun.
Daniel Buren, Borrowing and Multiplying the Landscape, 2011
Art is a window on the world. Well, in the case of Daniel Buren’s Borrowing and Multiplying the Landscape, installed for the opening of Turner Contemporary in Margate last year, it is. Buren’s installation modifies the view of the sea beyond the windows of the gallery foyer by covering much of the glass with coloured tape so that the sea is seen through a circular window cut into the yellow stripes. In a sense the work forms an inverse sun framing, on my visit at least, the greyness of and English summer afternoon. Ah well.
Olafur Eliasson, The Weather Project, 2003 (Turbine Hall, Tate Modern)
Mirrors can make a room look bigger. We all know that. They can also make a space confusing. We all know that too. At some stage, most of us have probably been in a public place with a mirrored wall and though the room extended further than it actually did. We may even have walked into the mirror by accident. These things happen.
The idea of a mirrored ceiling is a strange one. On the one, hand it’s an idea with somewhat seedy connotations. On the other hand, it can double the height of a room; okay, so it can only seem to do that, but you know what I mean. It’s this, somewhat disorientating, effect that Olafur Eliasson was going for when he installed a false ceiling in the Turbine Hall of Tate Modern as part of his 2003 installation The Weather Project. In the event, it both messed with our perception of the height of the space and made people behave in a way that they usually don’t in an art museum.
Richard Wilson, 20:50, 1987 (Matt’s Gallery, Martello Street, London)
Art can make us see the world differently. Certainly the way both Gordon Matta-Clark and Richard Wilson have cut away sections of buildings challenges our perception of architecture making us see city spaces differenttly in a literal but nonethheless interesting way.
Wilson’s iinstallation 20:50, a room with a seemingly mirrored surface at roughly waist height, offers a strangely new understanding of the space it’s installed in. For the unsuspecting visitor, the first clue about the nature of the surface is the smell, approaching the room one is greeted with a powerful aroma of oil. Suddenly the title – 20:50 – makes sense: the room is flooded with used engine oil. A walkway leads out into the middle of the space, from which you get to see the features of the room reflected all around you.
Quite high on the list of art I wish I’d seen is Richard Wilson’s installation for the 2007 Liverpool Biennial. Like other works by Wilson, who is probably best known for his installation 20:50 at the Saatchi Gallery (about which more another time, possibly even tomorrow now that it’s in my head), Turning the Place Over was an architectural intervention on an ambitious scale but unlike 20:50 this was a temporary installation made by messing with the fabric of an empty building.
One of my main preoccupations over the last couple of weeks while preparing for the end of year exhibition is how to divide up the space. Obviously for me this involves figuring out where the walls should go and what should go where to make the exhibition make as much sense as possible. But, you know, a bit of literal mindedness and it’s only a small leap from how to divide the studio to Gordon Matta-Clark and the chainsaw and sledgehammer approach to redefining architectural space.
The 1970s may have a lot to answer for in all sorts of ways, but some pretty ground-breaking – or in Matta-Clark’s case building-breaking – art was made then and it’s work that still resonates and that continues to influence subsequent generations of artists.