By Mark Jenkins
Sunday, October 6, 2013
Andy Warhol wasn’t much for earth tones. He preferred bright colors, the cyan--magenta--yellow of color newspaper inserts and the shiny hues of plastic and metal. The first of the pop artist’s studios was called the Silver Factory, named for walls painted and tin--foiled by his lieutenant, Billy Name. (Name had already done his own apartment in reflective silver, reportedly a popular decor among 1960s amphetamine enthusiasts.) Later, Warhol would wear silver wigs and make abstractions by urinating on canvases painted with metallic pigments.
In 1966, Warhol’s thing for glossy surfaces found a more childlike expression. His “Silver Clouds,” first shown at Leo Castelli Gallery, was an exhibition of pillow--shaped silvery balloons designed by Bell Labs engineer Billy Kluver, one of the founders of E.A.T. (Experiments in Art and Technology). The Scotchpak clouds were filled with a mix of air and helium, so they would hover rather than cling to the ceiling. They might nudge visitors to the gallery, and those visitors might nudge back. Since its 1994 opening, Pittsburgh’s Andy Warhol Museum has made newly fabricated clouds available for interactive museum installations around the world; 150 of them are now afloat at Rosslyn’s Artisphere.
Although not originally designed for any particular event, the clouds were incorporated into a Merce Cunningham dance piece in 1968. In homage, Artisphere enlisted Dance Exchange to stage performances amid its clouds. (The group will rehearse in public
Monday to Friday and unveil the finished piece on the last evening.)
If doesn’t have to be an organized dance, but motion is essential to the clouds. That’s why Artisphere has positioned five large fans around the perimeter of the mostly empty Terrace Gallery to keep them in play. On one recent afternoon, the Mylar pillows were activated by a stronger force: a half--dozen pre--K kids, who ran through and sometimes vanished entirely into them. Ripples could sometimes be seen from within the clump of silver balloons, as from the motion of fish just below the surface.
Communing alone with the pillows, whose varying floatability depends on how recently their helium has been recharged, is less interesting. Much of Warhol’s 1960s work has held up well, because it was innovative and artfully made, and also because of the artist’s prescient understanding of a culture increasingly besotted with iconic images, celebrity worship and mass--media spectacle. But “Silver Clouds” has been overtaken by the party--store Mylar balloons it anticipated.
The piece is often installed as part of a larger overview of Warhol’s career, and that seems a wise strategy. At Artisphere, it’s being billed as an example of the arts center’s “commitment to presenting artists who use new technology in their work.” Fair enough, but almost 50 years after “Silver Clouds’s” conception, its appeal seems more to toddlers than techies.
A complex look at tangled situations, “The Map is Not the Territory” expands beyond the Jerusalem Fund Gallery Al--Quds’s usual focus on Palestinian issues to include Ireland’s historic divisions and the United States’ and Canada’s treatment of their indigenous population. Made by 39 artists and mostly on paper, the nearly 70 pieces are grouped into such subcategories as “Occupation/Wall” and “Home/Diaspora.” Their approach ranges from symbolic to specific and from playful to polemical.
Some artworks combine elements from the three rather different conflicts. Mona El--Bayoumi’s “Lucky Can’t Find a Piece of Land to Sit and Eat His Falafel Peacefully” collages stereotypical images from commercial food packaging, including Lucky Charms’ leprechaun and Land O’Lakes butter’s Indian maid. Fatin Al--Tamimi and LisaMarie Johnson photographed Palestinian--flag--waving marchers on Dublin’s once--contested streets. Helen Zughaib’s “Woven in Exile” shows a veiled woman in front of a colorful Navajo quilt. Rawan Arar’s shot of a West Bank camp shows a spray--painted welcome, “You Are Now Entering Free Dheisheh,” inspired by an oft--photographed sign in Derry, Northern Ireland.
Among the motifs are maps, walls and passports. Rajie Cook’s “Epitaph for a Roadmap” depicts an unfolded blank sheet, lacking any path to the future, while Manal Deeb adds symbolic images to her grandfather’s actual Palestinian passport. Malaquias Montoya’s “Undocumented” depicts a faceless person snared on barbed wire, and John Halaka’s “Forgotten Survivors” superimposes an old map ---- with Jerusalem designated in Arabic as “Al Quds” ---- atop photos of refugees.
There is, inevitably, an abundance of text. The simplest example is Zughaib’s “Beit/Salaam,” whose spiraling calligraphy repeats the words for “home” and “peace.” It’s a gentle mantra for a show that’s more often bristling.
The writing that fills Victor Ekpuk’s drawings, paintings and mixed--media works has literal meaning, but most visitors to Morton Fine Art’s “Reminiscences & Current Musings” will be able to read only two words: the Nigerian--born D.C. artist’s name. He works it into the other text ---- which is in Nsibidi, an ancient West African system of ideographs ---- much the way he adds glimmers or blocks of color to his mostly black and white work.
Ekpuk doesn’t mind that the glyphs are obscure. The narratives in his works, he writes, can be “better perceived when they are felt rather than read literally.” Sometimes the text frames circles, usually rendered in bold blues or red--oranges, that suggest such elemental presences as the moon and the sun. This show features mostly recent works, but includes a few pieces that date as far back as 1996; some of them draw more directly on African folk art. Yet if such robust recent pieces as “Composition 11” seem more universal, they’re still framed by symbols that are rooted in a specific place and tradition.