My latest review for the New Haven Advocate considers “Continuous Present,” an excellent show at the Yale University Art Gallery featuring work by Francis Alÿs, Peter Fischli and David Weiss, Rodney Graham, Roni Horn, On Kawara, Thomas Nozkowski, Gabriel Orozco, Laura Owens, Dieter Roth, and Franz West. Here’s an excerpt.
“In ‘Continuous Present,’ the current exhibition at Yale University Art Gallery, a very loose curatorial conceit ties together the work of a disparate group of seasoned and established artists. Simply put, each piece explores some kind of existential phenomena….
“With Rodney Graham’s whimsical film, “City Self/Country Self” (2000) setting the tone, the exhibition cleaves into two broad categories of existential exploration. In the first, conceptual artists Graham, On Kawara, Francis Alÿs, Peter Fischli, David Weiss and Roni Horn visually chronicle the routines and rituals that mark time in everyday life. In the second, Franz West, Thomas Nozkowski, Gabriel Orozco, Dieter Roth and Laura Owens demonstrate their presence in the creative process by making drawings, paintings, sculpture and prints which, to quote Gross’ curatorial statement, are ‘phenomenological projects weighted with human presence.'”
“Among the first group, Kawara’s paintings are the most starkly obsessive. For more than 40 years, Kawara has been making one small painting a day. On each canvas, he paints that day’s date in a simple sans serif font in white, centered on a darker background. All artists impose aesthetic limitations, but Kawara is legendary for his engagement with disengagement. He aims to debunk the romantic myth of the passionately inspired artist and supplant it with the reality of the dry habitual practice of serial repetition.
“Similar conceptually, Francis Alÿs’ piece contains a looped animated drawing of a woman pouring liquid back and forth from one cup to another. The video is set low on the wall opposite a leather sofa, so that viewers can comfortably watch the endlessly repeating action. Where Alÿs creates an inviting space in which we watch the wistful animation of tedious endeavor, Kawara’s art practice has itself become a tedious endeavor….
“Many of the pieces in Continuous Present have been shown in other contexts, but assembled here they create a wonderfully convincing testament to these older artists’ lifelong consideration of process. According to Gross, the exhibition took five years to organize as she added and subtracted artists to suit the evolving theme, and the selection does seem somewhat random. One could argue that all artists make work that touches in some way on the loosely defined theme, and I would have liked to see more women represented (only two of 11 artists are female). But these are minor quibbles. I first saw the Peter Fischli/David Weiss film “The Way Things Go” (1987), in which a Rube Goldberg-like setup unfolds over the course of 30 minutes, at MoMA last year. Then it reminded me of a good day in the studio, with one unexpected turn leading surprisingly to the next and culminating in a small triumph.”