Medwin's CHC101 Exhibition Critique

Walking around the galleries of Massimiliano Gioni and Gary Carrion-Murayari’s exhibition “Ghosts in the Machine,” there were definitely some bizarre pieces of art to behold! From Hans Haacke’s “Blue Sail,” a piece of blue chiffon that floats and moves to the wind of an electric fan to the short film “Crash!” by J.G Ballard, one can see that this is no conventional exhibition that celebrates a particular type of art or era in art. Despite lacking when it comes to presenting “famous” works of art from prolific artists, the exhibit makes up for it by expressing the raw, psychological, and social ideas through the art presented in its many galleries. The curators invites those viewing the exhibition to see humanity’s reactions, whether fearful or joyous, to the integration of man, machine and art within the last half-century.

Although visitors may at first be overwhelmed by the wide variety of art as they walk through the three main galleries of “Ghosts in the Machine,” the pieces within each gallery all carry clear-cut ideas that reach out to viewers. Works such as “The Body is a Machine” scream at you with its strange photographs. Others such as Gianni Colombo’s “Elastic Space” leave you intrigued by its oddness as one stands in a room lit by black lights, surrounded by white chords. The exhibition displays art that highlights how artists have responded to this increasingly integrated world from a variety of perspectives. Instead of focusing on the artwork of major artistic movements such as futurism and surrealism, the exhibit is filled with works and creations of lesser-known artists. These artists include mental patients and those who were a part of movements largely considered after-thoughts in the 20th century. However, with these perspectives, the curators are able to clarify the idea that the joys and advances that machines have brought to 20th century earth can also be interpreted as destruction and dystopia. Art envisioning the future and new technology in the mid-20th century wasn’t all jubilee and happiness; it could get quite dark. Nonetheless, the exhibit proudly displays these ideas by having a healthy balance of kinetic art, optical art, television media, and powerful still-images.

There is no linear order to view “Ghosts in the Machine.” To create such an exhibit would be impossible because there is simply too much art. The exhibition is not displayed in a way that tells the history of the relationship between man and machine. Instead, as Gioni writes in his catalog, “Ghost in a Machine” is conceived “like a Wunderkammer, a cabinet of curiosities.” The exhibition examines the reactions in a way that is broad enough to encompass a plethora of them but specific enough to see them in vivid detail. Whether it is the still-art, technological creations, or electronic media, the art pieces within the exhibition are all related in subtle ways that bring the exhibition together like a web. Another interesting point to note is despite a strong focus on the 1950’s-1970’s, Gioni and Carrion-Murayari still choose to display various pieces ranging from the early 19th century to those created less than a decade ago from various artists all around the world in a single room. This shows that humanity’s reactions are far ranging and numerous across time. Furthermore, the pieces usually have little in common aesthetically. It begs the question, why are they in the same room? The curators choose to maximize the presentation of a “cabinet of curiosities.” In the central room of the fourth floor, the optical art pieces of Bridget Riley accompany a reconstruction of avant-garde artist, Stan VanDerBeek’s epic “Movie-Drome.” While from the same decade, the works can hardly be seen as related to each other and knowledge of anything else in the exhibition does not make the viewer understand and appreciate them anymore than seeing them first. The pieces throughout the exhibit are related loosely by their theme just enough so that, like a jigsaw puzzle, its viewers can piece together its message in however which way they please. Although some pieces reveal more of the whole picture than others, all the pieces must be collected in order to understand the exhibition’s full picture.

A “cabinet of curiosities” makes the exhibition all the more convincing. Imagine being inside a giant mansion with countless doors. We open the doors to these unknown cabinets or rooms when exploring a great mansion, take a quick peek, and lose interest when we see the next door. Likewise, our interest in artwork is greatest before we have experienced it and wanes once we have seen it. Soon after, our curiosity then shifts to another piece within the exhibit and the cycle repeats. “Ghosts in the Machine” plays upon this cycle to effectively send its message across as this cycle mirrors our interest in technology. Who is still interested in a train? A car? A television? All these innovations were once viewed with fascination and awe. Now that they have been integrated into our lives, our interest in them fades and is redirected towards the newest gadget, whether that is our fancy phones or social media. Therefore, the “cabinet of curiosities” itself can be seen as a testament to our ever-changing worlds brought upon by machines. Besides, how else could Gioni and Carrion-Murayari display the myriad of reactions of countless people?

One of the curators’ strategies to showcasing the reactions is highlighting a major reaction and then showcasing works over the years that have responded to that response. Marcel Duchamp brought about one of the major reactions to technology during the 20th century and the curators rightfully dedicate an entire gallery to his work. Considered one of the “anchors” or “foundations” of the exhibit, a reconstruction of his work “The Large Glass,” originally created in the 1920s can be found within one of the galleries. Its depiction of an “erotic encounter” between a bride in the top panel and nine bachelors in the bottom panel is profound, despite its simplistic look. Viewers are exposed to what Duchamp himself referred to as a “bachelor machine” in the lower glass pane of the work. As suggested by the subtitle under the work “The Bride stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even,” this machine represents love and marriage. However, accompanying its sexuality is death. Indeed, Duchamp’s piece highlights the sexual relationships we have built with our machines. He believed that humans had become so entangled with the machines that they had created that the relationship is comparable to marriage. The attachment to them is so strong that humans are willing to bring them to the grave. The exhibition does not hold back in its display of bachelor machines. Pieces by other artists decades later have clearly been influenced by Duchamp’s idea of bachelor machines and are also on display. One clear-cut example would be Konrad Klaphek. His artwork depicts various everyday objects such as typewriters and tires can hardly be seen as realistic. Instead, they are drawn grotesquely and sexually suggestively, as if they were humans in a modern art painting. The exhibit is suggesting that it’s almost as if we look at machines with a headful of hormones and desire.

Richard Hamilton’s “Man, Machine, and Motion” is made central within the exhibition, as it is truly a sight to behold. It is the perfect example of the curators showcasing lesser-known works. Instead of publicizing grand and stunning pieces, they put the ones that most vividly show what their entire exhibition is trying to express. Despite being made in the 1950’s, Hamilton’s work is especially interesting and applicable to our generation today. Hamilton is able to demonstrate how technology has created “new spacial and optical experiences” by taking photographs ranging from Victorian bicycles to planes to divers. Humanity’s pursuit to outperform nature has him create technology, technology that has now encompassed every aspect of our lives. As we replace old technology (cars, phones, computers) with newer models, we are reminded of our own limitations as human beings. Machines have the ability to alter our senses and control us, an idea that works such as Alan Turing “The Body is A Machine” and Fritz Kahn’s “Der Mensch als Industriepalast” (Man as Industrial Palace), emphasize.

The curators further the idea of machine’s omnipresence by adverting the focus from extremely powerful pieces. In a style reminiscent to that of Andy Warhol, Peter Roehr’s “Film Montagen I-III” repeats clips of infomercials until their meaning has become dulled and diluted. Despite its simplicity, it still has the ability to show how desensitized we have become to nature and our surroundings. The repetition of clips shows how innovative humanity has become when creating art. Humans are shown capable of presenting ideas not only through paintings and sculptures, but by new mediums brought about by technological advancement. The true beauty of this work was that it was found in a corner, seemingly over shadowed by Hamilton’s masterpiece. Despite this, the piece’s message still shines brightly. By having such powerful pieces to scattered throughout, Gioni and Carrion-Murayari able to give off the impression that no matter where you look, you cannot escape the changes brought about by living in an increasingly technological world. We have to react to them; we have to be changed by them.

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