Friday, June 28, 2019

Frieze Sculpture Exhibit at Rockefeller Center

"Jaguar" by Pedro Reyes
I mean no disrespect to artist Pedro Reyes when I say my mind immediately went to the Rolling Stones when I saw his sculpture "Jaguar." I mean, hello. Is he not familiar with the Stones' logo? And while I wasn't intending to lead with this, I couldn't resist when I learned the Stones are out on tour with Mick Jagger (Jaguar?) front and center and full of energy despite his heart attack three months ago. (To see the logo and the Stones' tour dates, click here.) But I seriously digress from the fabulous Frieze Sculpture exhibit my nephew TJ and I took in during my recent trip to New York.

The exhibit was curated by Brett Littman, director of the Isamu Noguchi Foundation. Littman's involvement seemed a logical fit since Noguchi's "News" graces the entrance of 50 Rock. (Click here to see Noguchi's Art Deco-style depiction of five journalists vigorously vying for the same story.)

Littman's concept for the exhibit was to create an "alternative sculpture park." Instead of monumental sculptures that towered over pedestrians, he envisioned works on a more human scale.  All the better to allow for interaction with both visitors and the architecture of Rock Center itself.

TJ with "Untitled" by Nice Cave 
Happily, TJ was willing to comply with my request to do a bit of posing. Nick Cave's "Untitled" initially seems to harken back to days of old before people carried music in their pockets. But then you notice the clenched Black Power fist at the opposite end of the sculpture. To me, the disproportionality makes the fist unsettling and maybe even a bit creepy. But more knowledgeable people interpret this as a symbol of the ability of activists to make their voices heard in the world. I like it. Cave himself said of the work, "Being at the scale that it is allows you to peer inside at this vernacular void that seems endless. It's these points of entry that provoke us to think differently, or to think about space and infinity and the unknown."

With "Dry Cut [from Blacks in the Pool--
Ruby]" by Paulo Nazareth
Paulo Nazareth's "Dry Cut [from Blacks in the Pool -- Tommie]" also includes a Black Power fist. But in this case the image was recognizable as that of Tommie Smith. Smith broke the 20 second barrier for the 200 meter sprint at the 1968 Summer Olympics. When he mounted the podium to accept his gold medal, he raised his fist to protest racial injustice against African-Americans. It wasn't so different than Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during the National Anthem. (Click here to see Nazareth with his sculpture.)

While I appreciated "Tommie," I preferred Nazareth's "Dry Cut [from Blacks in the Pool -- Ruby]." Again, the title clues the viewer in to what the image represents -- six year old Ruby Bridges being escorted to school on her first day integrating an all white school in the Deep South.

The exhibit included two additional commemorations by Nazareth of significant moments in the Civil Rights movement -- aluminum cut-outs depicting Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks. I'm sorry I didn't find my way to the lobby of 45 Rock to check them out.
"Behind the Walls' by Jaume Plensa
My favorite sculpture in the exhibit was "Behind the Walk" by Jaume Plensa. The sculpture towers over the pedestrian walkway from Fifth Avenue into Rock Center. Despite Littman's expressed objective, it's hard to call the work anything other than monumental.

Another of Littman's goals was to introduce New Yorkers to artists whose sculptures had not been publicly displayed previously. I took some pleasure in knowing that Tampa preceded New York in this regard. Plensa's "Laura with Bun" stands on the plaza in front of the entrance to the Tampa Museum of Art. (Click here to see that work.)

Plensa's sculptures of female heads typically have closed eyes. When speaking with representatives of the Tampa Museum, he commented on this choice by saying, "Look into yourself. My piece is a mirror to reflect your image, so you can think about your own interior -- how much beauty we have inside ourselves."

Plensa's "Behind the Walls" goes a step further from a woman with closed, meditative eyes. "Sometimes our hands are the biggest walls," he said. "They can cover our eyes, and we can blind ourselves to so much of what's happening around us." It's an instinct that's hard to resist some days.

If you didn't catch the Frieze Sculpture exhibit, there's good news. The exhibit will be back at Rock Center next year, with Littman once again serving as curator. And if you happen to be in London, an entirely different Frieze Sculpture exhibit will be on display in Regent's Park from July 3 through mid-October.  Happy viewing!

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