John Cage room at the Guggenheim



John Cage New River Watercolor Series IV, #4, 1988

The Third Mind: American Artists Contemplate Asia, 1860–1989  (January 30–April 19, 2009)

As a part of this exhibition, the curators have set up a room dedicated to John Cage’s work.  Sev had mentioned Cage’s silent piano piece 4:33 and Nam June Paik’s installation Cage within a Cage (or something close to that title) is being exhibited with Cage ‘performing’ this piece.  On three of the walls there is an installation of Cage’s works on paper that have been assembled using a technique that he composed where the pieces and postioned are determined by chance dynamics.  This all came to mind when we were talking last class about different ways of displaying art objects, and how certain ideas on fetish and categorization translate into the ways we see things displayed in art institutions.

For details on the exhibit:


One Response to “John Cage room at the Guggenheim”

  1. gabriel Says:

    I don’t know how to post a comment!
    The pictures of Fontana’s “cuts” don’t seem to show…

    Two points about the art nexus (index—which is central to Gell on the one hand because of its vehicular function between agency and patiency (both played in turn by the prototype, the artist and the recipient); and on the other because it possesses a will and wills it on people (and on other objects?)—, artist, recipient, prototype all potential agents and patients):
    1) is this nexus not so theoretical that it can be applied also to other social realms outside of art? Many objects can be “indexes” (both unintentional: smoke for fire, and intentional—intentionality being for Gell the artistic quid of the index—: a book, a theorem) outside of art. If so, this would explain 2) the absence of a definition of what art is (if not a “theoretical” one, 7) and does (agency is bound to the art nexus).
    Maybe a way to bridge this gap and bring mimicry/imitation into discourse is the creative act (which however moves the will from the object to the artist), in the sense that he same act might have different meanings (I know Gell wants to go away from meaning…) and provide an alternative understanding of the traces or residuals that a creative act (and its indexical result) leave on art-forms, an understanding based on a socially mediated (not always conscious) and allegorical (in the sense of indirect, partial) “memory” of the trace.
    The creative act is bound to temporality (both historical and experiential, an element lacking in Gell’s analysis) and on the why of art (which Gell does not address), which in the case of Velazquez’s Rokeby Venus can be seen in multiple ways. Upon her slashing of the painting in 1914, Mary Richardson (or Gell) on the one hand renames the artwork (the caption on p. 63 reads: Mrs. Pankhurst by Mary Richardson: the Rokeby Venus by Velazquez slashed by Mary Richardson, 1914) giving it a new ephemeral (yet tangible) life (it took a few months to restore it) and a reason (the imprisonment of fellow suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst) for her action: “I have tried to destroy the picture of the most beautiful woman in mythological history as a protest against the Government for destroying Mrs. Pankhurst, who is the most beautiful character in modern history. Justice is an element of beauty as much as color and outline on canvas. Mrs. Pankhurst seeks to procure justice for womanhood, and for this she is being slowly murdered by a Government of Iscariot politicians. If there is an outcry against my deed, let everyone remember that such an outcry is an hypocrisy so long as they allow the destruction of Mrs. Pankhurst and other beautiful living women, and that until the public cease to countenance human destruction the stones cast against me for the destruction of this picture are each an evidence against them of artistic as well as moral and political humbug and hypocrisy.” ( Richardson gives a historical reason for the new artwork (and a new value, since the price of the painting skyrocketed after the assault and restoration), yet in Gell’s terms, her action, her slashing re-creation of the artwork, leaves “traces” that are picked up (I would guess unconsciously, thus linking mimicry/imitation and traces/residuals) by “spatialist” artist Lucio Fontana (1899-1968) who, looking for a third dimension beyond the two provided by the canvas (the goal of spatialism) he makes his first of along series of “cuts” (also named “lacerations” and “holes”, “rips”, “gashes”, “slashes”, “scratches”) the cut goes beyond the canvas, it opens a connection with the surrounding space.

    In this case, imitation leaves a trace that can be formally identical to itself yet of altered meaning (Velazquez, Mary Richardson, Lucio Fontana). Willing, one could attempt another trace-linkage (this way backwards in time) between Fontana’s search for three-dimensionality in art and Duchamp’s search for a fourth dimension: both are unintelligible, both are outside (or beyond) the representational space, and it is a material/metaphorical “slashing” (the fact that the glass broke) that renders Duchamp’s Large Glass “definitively unfinished” and somehow crystallizes the 4th dimension (which for Gell is related to temporality)

    An “”anthropology of art” [i]s the theoretical study of ‘social relations in the vicinity of objects mediating social agency’” (7); social relations played out in a “social context of art production circulation, and reception” (3). This is the space in which abduction is enacted and becomes a way to mediate social relations between bodies, perceptions and minds (16). But is Gell’s avoidance of symbolic, aesthetic and linguistic interpretations in favor production and reception as well as the agency of the index (contingent upon the recipient’s patiency) warranted?
    Following this

    Is a universal anthropological theory of art possible? This is why Gell rejects meaning, aesthetics and symbolism and concentrates on “agency, intention, causation, result, and transformation” (6). The universality seems to be enabled through ‘captivation’—which occurs through the indecipherability of the index (71)—and is the “primary form of artistic agency” (p.69). This allows Gell to avoid meaning (yet through indecipherability—a limit to meaning within the realm of meaning) in cross-cultural analysis (but can we avoid meaning tout court? Is the notion that complexity captivates evil in the apotropaic pattern of the Celtic knot work, in the Kolam of Tamil Nadu, and in the Cretan labyrinth only functional? Are these only “mind traps” ( 80) for demons (84-85?)

    Is it true that “the ‘aesthetic attitude’ is a specific historical product of the religious crisis of the Enlightenment and the rise of Western science, and that it has no applicability to civilizations which have not internalized the Enlightenment as we have” (97)? If this is true, the Western relation ‘recipient(P)index(A)’ should be the same as the one ‘Non-Western “idolater”(P)Idol(A)’ Are there no really differences? (“We have neutralized our idols by reclassifying them as art; but we perform obeisances before them every bit as deep as those of the most committed idolater before his wooden god.” 97 yet the artist is no idol, since he is separated from the recipient through the index. Eventually it would be Britney Spears, who—like the idol—is exposed, even though she can only be seen, whilst the idol can be felt).

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