Mary Callery, American, b. New York City, 1903-1977
Steel and brass, 10 1/8 x 20 13/16 x 13 7/8 in.
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC
The Joseph H. Hirshhorn Bequest, 1981
Two new exhibits opened at the Hirshhorn today: Speculative Forms and Sitebound. While Speculative Forms deals with sculpture and Sitebound deals with photography, both exhibits have the same objective: exploring the relationship between the artwork and the museum visitor. Instead of traditional exhibits like “The Renaissance”, “Impressionist Painters” or “US Sculptors” the curators opted to display works that have a thematic relationship with each other as opposed to an historic one. While two works may have been made 50 years apart, both were made out of wood or both were images taken by photographers who focused on architecture.
I preferred the Speculative Forms exhibit; I just like sculpture more than photography, so I’m choosing to write about that but it does not mean Sitebound wasn’t really cool in its own right.
Speculative Forms tried accomplishing its objective by juxtaposing various art styles with similar themes. Like any modern art exhibit, there were some works that just looked primitive to me or just really conceptual. I started to look at the name of the piece of art I was having trouble understanding in order to get some guidance about what to look for and how to think about it. For example, there was a section of Speculative Forms that dealt with larger stone sculptures. At first glance it appeared to be a pile of rocks but upon reading the title of the piece which related to biology, I began to see that the rocks formation mimicked the form of a cell. This made me think that the artist was trying to saying something about the importance of even the tiniest things in the world to the function of sustaining life. I also noticed the variety of ways sculptors combined materials within a piece, for example: stone/metal and wood/stone. While I’m used to seeing sculpture in one medium, these combinations made me contemplate what it is like to view art by theme instead of artist or period. Imagine walking over to the National Gallery of Art and seeing the rooms arranged by themes like landscape, portraits or paintings of fruit. You would see paintings from hundreds of years apart in amazingly different styles but you could imagine each artist in the same mind state or looking at the same things before they started their art. One such sculpture in the exhibit, Metamorphosis, showed two circular bronze rings coming out of a stone block. I immediately thought the artist was trying to explore the history of art or the history of the creative process by showing a “modern” item seemingly flow from one thing that has been on earth for millions of years: stone. Also, I thought of the artist’s mind starting as a block of stone and the creative process carves, sharpens and refines the stone until the artist is satisfied.
Now you may go to this exhibit and see and feel things in the polar opposite way than I did; as that is what tends to happen with modern art. I would just recommend reading the didactic placards (the signs that introduce the exhibits) before you see the individual works of art in order to capture the curator’s goal for you in viewing the exhibit. There will be a second part of Speculative Form opening later this summer as well.