Sunday, April 05, 2009

"The Third Mind" at the Guggenheim

JMS and I went to see "The Third Mind: American Artists Contemplate Asia, 1860-1989" last Friday at 6 PM, when admission was free. According to the exhibition notes, The Third Mind refers to a "cut-ups" work by Beat writers William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin, whose cult of spontaneity in art and life drew inspiration from Asian attitudes. As even this note illustrates, there was far too much generalizing about "Asian attitudes" in the exhibition than I could stand. "Asia" in the exhibition was predominantly--and predictably --Japanese, and within Japanese culture, Zen. "Asia" was presented as an ahistorical and undifferentiated Other. 

Yes, the artists saw Asia that way, but I would have liked the exhibition to give more context to that way of seeing. I did not care for the post-War World II stuff (mainly installations, performance art, videos), though Ernest Fenollosa's book "The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry," edited and published by Pound, was interesting to see, as was Pound's typescript of Eliot's "What the Thunder Said," opened to the page of the Thunder's Sanskrit.

For the good stuff, we had to leave the rotunda to enter the easily missed side rooms, where late nineteenth century artists like Whistler, and early twentieth like Arthur Dove confronted and absorbed Asian art, especially Japanese prints and Chinese landscapes. I really like the drypoint works by Mary Cassatt. Encouraged by a Japanese original, she painted a series of pictures of a mother and her baby in a domestic, non-Madonna-ish, way. They were delicate responses to Japanese composition, and pictorial vocabulary. 

The side exhibition "Kandinsky and Expressionist Painting before World War I" was of definite interest. There Franz Marc's two big paintings--one of a  boldly colored bull, and the other of a forbidding town with two goats in the foreground--were stand-outs. In the Thannhauser permanent collection, I was very taken by Manet's "Before the Mirror." JMS said aptly that Manet adopted Impressionist techniques but not the Impressionist agenda. Looking into the mirror, the woman stands with her back to the viewer, who comes upon her, unsure if she has seen him in the mirror. The mirror suggests a powder room but the flowers and background brushstrokes speak of the outdoors. 

2 comments:

Ormand said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Kaylee

http://www.craigslistposter.info

Jee Leong Koh said...

Thanks, Kaylee, for reading along. You can "follow" the blog (sidebar), if you are not doing so already.