Friday, November 20, 2015

Art Cars at the SAM

Inopportune: A Car Cascade
The Seattle Art Museum lobby has for years been dominated by a car explosion. Inopportune: Stage One by Cai Guo Qiang is a series of nine white Ford Tauruses (Tauri?). They are lined up, the first one with all four wheels on the ground, followed by the next seven spiraling through the air, with streams of white bulbs exploding in all directions as the cars tumble end over end, and the last Ford at rest. I've always liked it, and never understood the hate for it, a dislike that bubbles up now that they are finally going to remove that installation after nine years.

As I said, I like it. I liked it when it was part of the museum before its expansion, and I liked it after the museum expansion, when they moved the initial car to the second floor balcony. I've always seen the series of vehicles not as an explosion or a horrible accident, but rather as a threat of danger with a happy ending. I see the cars as a narrative flow, that starts with it going off the balcony, then spiraling through the air (the explosions can just as easily be emotion) but at last coming to rest, unharmed, in the same position as it initially was. It is a car crash. But it also an graphic display of an argument, emotions in all directions, before returning to its base state.

I'm not much a fan of "found object art", which seeks to elevate traditional ready-made object to important art worth considering either seriously or ironically. So just parking a white Ford Taurus in a lobby does nothing for me. However, the creation of a narrative with the cascading Fords, filled with light, then returned to their mundane look really does work for me. It takes the object and gives it additional artistic value and narrative flow.

I'm also a bit suspicious of "installation art" where an entire room or domain within a museum is dedicated to a single work, as if the only way to engage with the work is to clear everything else out of the way. This is the logical antipode of the old, old (old) days, when artwork was jammed cheek by jowl against the wall, creating the pigmented equivalent of having a wall of TVs all on at once. Room-dominating single-item installations smacks of pretense to me, and is more at home with office lobbies than museum space. And perhaps the fact that piece itself is suspended over the entrance lobby makes me more accommodating than if it claimed a full vault of valuable real estate elsewhere.

In any event, yeah, the cars of Inopportune are coming down, and I for one will miss them.

More later,