March 1st, 2008

Cultural Elaboration

Today’s cultural outing was to the San Francisco MOMA. I wanted to see the new Lee Friedlander exhibit. And, while I was there I wanted to breathe in front of their Mark Rothko.

What I liked in the photographs was that Friedlander shares some of my obsessions, but has talent many orders of magnitude greater than mine. Thus, his musings on reflections and shadows come out as beautiful photographs, compositions that provoke and amuse. He addresses the problem of the observer with humor that feels like a sidelong wink: his reflection in a plate glass window partially obscured by a poster or notice, his shadow transformed into a desert woman as it falls across breast-like rocks and a tuft of wild hairy grass. He even addresses the interaction between worker and tools when after much time he changes cameras and suddenly all his negatives are square, reframed, reproportioned. All the way home in the car, I noticed windows and power lines. I also thought about what Friedlander would do with the little stick-on convex mirrors that Brent has on his side mirrors—maybe make faces at them?

Rothko is different. Duh. He made giant canvases of color. It took me a while to understand the appeal of them. At first, they seem like something random and stupid, like what a lazy person who didn’t want to learn to draw might paint. I was annoyed, so I looked more closely. I was helped in this by the Berkeley Art Museum (for some reason, this link does not seem to bring anything up right now; I hope they fix it!), which hung one of his canvases near another artist who paints fields of color and whose work I still don’t find moving. Rothko’s colors have a depth and a light built into them. They expand and move as you look at them. They offer a very different way of seeing, a reflective space that challenges normal thinking. I find the same questions of reflection and shadow answered in yet another compelling way in his work. It makes perfect sense to me that someone would want to build the Rothko Chapel in a way that, say, a Lichtenstein one, would not.

I want to make things now.