Dreamscapes at The Pultizer Foundation for the Arts

Between a Rock and a Dreamscape

Most exhibitions organized at The Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts feature a curatorial premise relating to the building as muse.  Exploring the relationship between water, light, architecture, and color, past exhibitions like Old Masters and Water are founded upon the notion that the way we experience the installation of the exhibition is just as important as the exhibition itself.

The Dreamscapes exhibition is another inquiry into the museum as muse, or in this case, the rock as muse. Curator Francesca Herndon-Consagra mentions this explicitly in the conceptual statement about the exhibition, referring to Tadao Ando’s architecture and Rock Settee by Scott Burton as principle points of curatorial investigation, and conflating them with the visual language and art historical touchstone of dreams.

Mounting exhibitions every 6-12 months, and in this case borrowing heavily from the local collections of the Saint Louis Art Museum, the paintings on display by Rene Magritte, Georg Baselitz, Paul Delvaux, and Max Ernst illustrate this concept of the stone as reference, and a piece by Constantin Brancusi manifests this in three dimensional form.

Criticizing the Pulitzer’s programming is a fool’s errand:  The quality and momentum of this institution is something to be admired, and it is an indispensable feature of the cultural landscape of Saint Louis.  The curator’s task, with an exhibition like Dreamscapes, is to balance the existing permanent installations (like Ellsworth Kelly’s giant aluminum panel painting and the Aristide Maillol sculpture) with artworks that lend a fresh experience to repeat visits. It makes a lot of sense that Dreamscapes draws heavily on the metaphysical works of Giorgio de Chirico, the Surrealist works of Rene Magritte and Max Ernst, and the illusionism and hidden worlds of Do Ho Suh, Kiki Smith, and Max Beckmann.

Dreamscapes does live up to the Pulitzer’s mission of reevaluating the “interrelationship of art and architecture,” and there’s lots of good going on. However, in viewing this show, I keep coming back to what’s not here. The inclusion of so many stylistically similar works on the aesthetic and historical spectrum (the works by Beckmann, Ernst, Magritte, Delvaux and even Baselitz) seems to form an incredibly distinct curatorial vision, making anomalies of the contemporary works by Smith, Suh, and Cardiff. I would liked to have seen more emphasis on the wide-ranging perspectives available in contemporary art (a singular Cardiff telephone would have gotten the point across), and some variation in the historical choices (Magritte’s The Invisible World painting, the show’s calling card, makes the point well enough alone).  Perhaps even shifting the objects around could have accomplished this – the core of the show appears to be in the main gallery, and almost all of those works are large-scale paintings made in the fifty years after WWI. It is also of note that only approximately 10% of the works in the show are by women.

An unexpected and enjoyable experience here was in the lower hallway, where a viewer may listen to Janet Cardiff’s I was a blond man, while pondering from a distance the hazy figurative photograph Forest (Briol II), by Wolfgang Tillmans.  The audio sculpture features Cardiff recounting a dream, experienced via a vintage telephone, that parallels the spatial possibilities of the shadow-like tunnel in Tillmans’ image.   I also enjoyed listening to William Kentridge, celebrated South African animation artist, during his panel discussion at The Pulitzer on March 2, remind us about the relationship between Philip Guston and Beckmann.  He pointed out that the former was likely inspired by the latter, and it is truly a joy to see a Beckmann singled out from its home at the St. Louis Art Museum for presentation in the sublime space at The Pulitzer.

Catch this show through August 13, 2011. Staircase (Pulitzer Version) by Do Ho Suh is not to be missed (if for reasons of craft alone), and the rare viewing of Max Klinger’s etching suite, A Glove, is too precious. Don’t sleep on Dreamscapes.

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