The artists — new and established — in the current exhibition at Western Bridge are asking us to consider concepts or actions that take place through time. More fundamentally, this art is about the acts of creating — or interpreting — art.
“What does it do? What does it mean? What’s it about?” These are some of the questions that my 7-year-old daughter asked when we walked though the new exhibition at Western Bridge. Unlike some folks who are confronted with conceptual art that offers few narrative or symbolic clues, my kid wasn’t infuriated or insecure. She was just really, really curious.
And, frankly, as we looked at smashed fluorescent tubes on the floor or at sheets of completely exposed (blank-looking) photographic paper, I was a little stumped as to how to answer her.
At first, I was tempted to lay out the art-world context. The title of the exhibition, “Box with the Sound of Its Own Making” is taken from a 1961 Robert Morris sculpture owned by the Seattle Art Museum. It’s a simple box, made by Morris out of walnut, inside of which is a tape recording (now transferred by the artist to a CD) of the sounds made during the three-and-a-half hours it took for Morris to make the box.
Like Morris, the artists in the exhibition at Western Bridge are asking us to consider concepts or actions that take place through time. More fundamentally, this art is about the acts of creating — or interpreting — art.
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Most of the work in the show has been made recently and brings forward some of the ideas and methods of the conceptual-performance art of the 1960s and ’70s, when artists experimented with simple rituals and mundane materials to sidestep — or criticize — the model of the artist-as-self-expressive-rebel, who nonetheless sold paintings for a pretty penny (think Pablo Picasso or Jackson Pollock).
Eric Fredericksen, director of Western Bridge, has carefully chosen a handful of artists — both established (Bruce Nauman) and emerging (Ryan Gander) — who have used a variety of approaches to this kind of neo-conceptual work: video or photographed records of spaces and actions; installations of minimal, industrial, banal materials; work that relies on text.
In the end, I decided that I would not treat my daughter to a lecture about art history. Instead, we just looked, reacted and guessed, gathering some interpretive cues from the titles (be sure to pick up a gallery guide at the front desk because there are no labels on the walls).
With Eli Hansen and Oscar Tuazon’s installation — which is outside the gallery, in the parking lot — we noticed the title, “Use it For What It’s Used For,” and decided to use the rudimentary gazebo-patio-like structure as a viewing platform, a perfect spot to see Jonathan Monk’s white neon-light sculpture on the inside entry wall.
We noticed that Jason Dodge’s installation of copper tubing was attached to the gallery’s water pipe, that there is a spigot on one end of the length of copper and a little tag that says, “Build a great aquarium.” The work of art then became something that could be completed in the mind’s eye — something fanciful (what would it be like if this whole space were filled with water?) or ominous (the title is “your death, sub marine”).
It’s not an easy show, or a beautiful show, but my daughter summed it up perfectly, as we caught glimmers of understanding by looking, talking and pondering: “I think we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing.”