Entering the Void: Last Chance to See Destroy the Picture

Not attending former MOCA Chief Curator Paul Schimmel’s Destroy the Picture: Painting the Void, 1949-1962 equates transgression. It ends Monday, January 14th. While the title of the exhibit suggests an erudite realm, the show exceeds intellectual and political awareness.  Under Schimmel’s direction, the galleries form an intricate network that awakens the weary individual from quotidian slog. In this sense, Destroy the Picture performs as a meditative labyrinth that transcends the immediacy of violence, labels and circumstance. The works of twenty-six artists in the exhibit embody a global, cross-cultural postwar dialogue.  Each piece represents a type of autobiographical response that expresses the need to create dignified meaning from the unfathomable atrocities of World War II’s assault against humanity; reflecting a collective un/conscious desire to surpass survival.  Schimmel’s deliberate curation elicits the viewer’s contemplative space between visceral and intellectual experience; an introspective void that induces profound consideration. Destroy the Picture functions as the viewer’s psychological and cultural mirror – reverberating  historical traces not just in present society, but the world.

Salvatore Scarpitta Racer's Pillow, 1963 Canvas and wood with resin 60 x 48 in. (152.4 x 121.92 cm) Friedman Estate © Estate of Salvatore Scarpitta
Salvatore Scarpitta Racer’s Pillow, 1963 Canvas and wood with resin 60 x 48 in. (152.4 x 121.92 cm) Friedman Estate © Estate of Salvatore Scarpitta

The first gallery includes  Saburo Murakami’s 1955 Iriguchi (Entrance),  an aperture that leads to the body of the exhibit. The definitive portal asserts a pausal, reflective space. It, also, contains Jean Fautrier’s Dépouille (1945) and Shozo Shimamoto’s Gutai 02  (1950) on opposing walls.  Fautrier  covered layers of paper with heavy, impastoed abstract faces to evoke the corporeal and psychological reality of Nazi occupied France. While,  Shimamoto’s use of  similar medium reflects his financial constraints. Both of these artists’ tiered, textural pieces evoke a metaphysical, correlative unspoken dialogue. (Shimamoto asserted he was unaware of the artistic processes arising out of Europe).

Alberto Burri Sacco e oro (Sackcloth and Gold), 1953 Burlap and gold on canvas 49 5/8 x 43 11/16 in. (126 x 111 cm) © Fondazione Palazzo Albizzini Collezione Burri, Città di Castello – by SIAE 2012
Alberto Burri Sacco e oro (Sackcloth and Gold), 1953 Burlap and gold on canvas 49 5/8 x 43 11/16 in. (126 x 111 cm) © Fondazione Palazzo Albizzini Collezione Burri, Città di Castello – by SIAE 2012

It is easy to escape into the particularities that delineate each work present in Destroy the Picture. From the wire stitches in Lee Bontecou’s three dimensional welded and torched canvases to Alberto Burri’s painted, cut and sutured sackcloths, the act of painting represents an actualized alternative reality originating from destruction. Thus, representing simultaneous recognition and obliteration: an acknowledgement of brutality through the erasure of the traditional use of common objects. The assault on the canvas symbolizes a dismissal of severe or even prosaic existence. Destruction burgeons inquisition; such as examining how Bontecou’s artistic choices defy the stereotype of the female artist. In Burri’s case, what it meant to be a prisoner of war. Indeed, as an American living in Italy from 1956 to 1958, Bontecou did encounter Burri’s art.

Lee Bontecou Untitled, 1962 Canvas, welded steel and wire construction 57 x 54 1/2 x 22 in. (144.78 x 138.43 x 55.88 cm) Manfred and Jennifer Simchowitz Photography by Brian Forrest © Lee Bontecou
Lee Bontecou Untitled, 1962 Canvas, welded steel and wire construction 57 x 54 1/2 x 22 in. (144.78 x 138.43 x 55.88 cm) Manfred and Jennifer Simchowitz Photography by Brian Forrest © Lee Bontecou

Destroy the Picture’s significance cannot be attributed to a singular artistic moment or figure. Rather, the emotional and historical propulsions that exist within –  yet exceed –  particular times and locations. This momentous exhibit beseeches the viewer to find parallels between the seemingly abandoned artists’ pasts and the socio-economic urgency of today. Immediate gratification has replaced sustaining knowledge; as pharmacies and sporting goods stores enter the edifices that once sold books.  So apropos is John Latham’s Then is Now. Constructed in 1959, Latham’s incorporation of burned books onto a canvas plane reminds the viewer of fascist book burnings, as well as Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (which was published in 1953). Duly, the title forewarns.

Destroy the Picture: Painting the Void, 1949-1962 ends January 14, 2013. MOCA Grand Avenue and The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA are open 11am to 5pm on Monday and Friday; 11am to 8pm on Thursday; 11am to 6pm on Saturday and Sunday; and closed on Tuesday and Wednesday. General admission is $12 for adults; $7 for students with I.D. and seniors (65+); and free for MOCA members, children under 12, and everyone on Thursdays, from 5pm to 8pm, courtesy of Wells Fargo. For 24-hour information on current exhibitions, education programs, and special events, call 213 626 6222 or access MOCA online at moca.org

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