The exhibition of New York artist Christian Marclay at the UCLA Hammer Museum was recommended to me by two friends; one familiar with the artist's works, the other had heard good things about the show. I know that the artist maintains a healthy career as a musician so I go to the exhibition curious to see his art and its connection to music. At the entrance I'm greeted by a stack of old records forming a tall column, probably 7 or 8 feet high. I wouldn't say that I'm impressed, but it's smartly installed with a tiny space between each of the several hundred records. Nearby is a wall covered with hundreds of small photographs that are probably as old as the vinyl records that make up the column. The unusual thing is that we can only see the back sides of all these photographs, so we're left guessing what's on the other side. I check around for the museum guard, to be sure he's not looking. Then I take a quick peek at the hidden side of one of the photographs, which, like all the others, is attached to the wall only by a single pin.
I know I shouldn't have done that, but I guess I was trying to reach out and find some connection with the elegant, but rather mute, artwork. On some intellectual level, I understand that this work has something to do with the white noise that so much music in our everyday life is relegated to. However, emotionally, I remain unmoved.
Next comes a series of framed collages composed of old album covers literally stitched together to create slightly amusing, visual equivalents of one-line jokes. For example young Michael Jackson's face and upper body on one album cover is neatly aligned with another album cover featuring a sexy black female torso. Even more unexpected is the final element of the collage, completing Michael Jackson's reclining figure with a white woman's extended leg. I have to admit it's funny, and clever, but, these days, jokes about Michael Jackson are a dime a dozen.
Other collages and videos presented in the exhibition similarly depend on pre-existing images in a clever, but not very original, arrangement. And with each consecutive piece I feel less and less intrigued by what Christian Marclay has to say. In the last gallery there is a large sculpture of an accordion stretching into an almost 10 foot-long snake. I wonder whether it was made by the artist himself or by a professional accordion maker? One way or the other, his art doesn't make me eager to get familiar with his musical alter ego.
Last week brought news of good fortune for the Santa Monica Museum of Art, which received a million dollars each from The Annenberg and Good Works Foundations. In these difficult economic times such news is rare and indeed welcome. This small museum carved for itself a very specific and important role in the cultural life of Southern California. It doesn't collect art but, like the little engine that could, it keeps searching for a fresh way to connect with a wide audience. Let's hope that with this windfall, Santa Monica Museum of Art will be able to make even more noise.
June 1 - August 31, 2003
UCLA Hammer Museum
10899 Wilshire Blvd.
Westwood, CA 90024
Santa Monica Museum of Art
Bergamot Station Arts Center, G1
2525 Michigan Avenue
Santa Monica, CA 90404