Saturday, December 15, 2012

Two engaging displays at MOMA

A quick review of two engaging art displays at MOMA – one by Ferhat Özgür and other solo by Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt, suggesting contrasting ideas and processes of expressing their concerns:

‘I Can Sing’
Ferhat Özgür, a talented Turkish artist, looks to critique contemporary political realities with humor and irony. Living and working in Istanbul, he principally focuses upon the relationship of the individual with society, using his work as a space within which individuality can be expressed in spite of the context of oppressive environments.

Özgür‘s video work, titled ‘I Can Sing’. depicts an Anatolian woman in a headscarf, standing before a backdrop of contemporary Ankara featuring minarets alongside the ever-expanding sprawl of urban development. The woman’s lips move in conflict with the soundtrack of Jeff Buckley’s cover version of Leonard Cohen’s classic song ‘Hallelujah’.  Her personal lament becomes a lament for the disappearance of cultural traditions and identities in the wake of western homogenization.

She appears to both praise and despair, but the lines between Islam and Christianity, Western influence and Turkish tradition are blurred--suggesting that change is being both embraced and shunned. She is an embodiment of societal upheaval and change. Even the major key of the Western popular song is an indicator of uprooting as it obliterates the minor tones characteristic of Turkish music.
‘Tender Love Among the Junk’
Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt’s mixed-media constructions, collages, and installations are marked by a trashy opulence concocted from household items and dollar stores. Mimicking Byzantine decoration with cellophane, aluminum foil, tinsel and glitter, the American artist (born 1948) pioneered a maximalist aesthetic in the late 1960s that explored gay sexuality, class struggle, and religion.

Mingling high with low, and sacred with profane, Lanigan-Schmidt bucked the reductive tastes of conceptualism and minimalism that dominated his youth, creating a radically decorative practice that, despite its influence, has never been properly assimilated into the history of American art.

In this sort of joyous retrospective of the artist’s work, almost everything on display tends to involve simulation of the Roman Catholic Church’s decorative culture and iconography. Woven in throughout deftly, too, there are signifiers of homosexual desire like pieces of gay pornography.

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