15 September 2014

on and off the spectrum

The morning started with a visit to the Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst or S.M.A.K., the municipal museum of contemporary art in Ghent. The first galleries I entered were devoted to François Morellet with his highly developed scheme of lines or grids and spaces. Upstairs was a wonderful mix of chaos and humor in two shows: David Bade and the Instituto Buena Bista and a retrospective of Wilfredo Prieto. I must admit to enjoying the Prieto show much more. Many of the works were much ado about nothing in the most profound way. The signature piece was probably the water pressure trucks out front and the large tubing leading to a small potted plant, a statement on consumption of resources. The most glorious was "Expensive line, cheap line" in which lines were penned on the floor in ballpoint and Montblanc ink. That's it but the space was spectacular.
Other Prieto works were similarly understated but made big points. "One million dollars" was a dollar bill between two mirrors so that the reflections went off into the distance.

Downstairs was an exhibition of European art since 1968, works from the collection, mostly by the artists that had been in a show in 1980. It was not a recreation of the 1980 show but a reflection of the scene in the 1970s. The museum wasn't known as S.M.A.K. back then but they were collecting as the works came out. A couple of the works had resonance later in the day: Hanne Darboven and one of her inventory pieces and Braco Dimitrijević's "About two artists." The latter includes two busts, one of Leonardo da Vinci and the other an unknown artist. A plaque behind the busts tells a story about two artists who lived in the country. One day, the king's dog wanders off while he's hunting. The dog wanders into one of the artist's yards. The king finds the dog and the artist and takes the artist back to his court. That artist is Leonardo da Vinci. The other artist is still unknown. Fame is fickle.

Leaving S.M.A.K., I stopped for a snack and then took the tram out to the Museum Dr Guislain, a museum devoted to the normal and abnormal on the grounds of a psychiatric institution run by the Brothers of Charity. My sister Carol had read about it and I am so glad she told me about it. There are permanent exhibitions about the history of psychiatry but the main show was "I see what you cannot see: art and autism." Several artists stood out: Pascale Vinck and her portraits drawn from fashion magazines; Patrick Ott and his drawings of elaborate façades;
Jeroen Hollander and his maps of imaginary cities with numbered bus lines. It was quite a shift, and no shift at all, to move from the obsessive works of the minimalists and conceptual artists at S.M.A.K. in the morning to the autistic artists at Guislain.

What indeed is autism? Where does the spectrum begin and end? I doodled my street plans; is it the numbering of the bus lines that puts you on the spectrum? Hanne Darboven does enormous inventories of portraits or objects; some of the works in the autism exhibition also showed obsessive complexity. One of the artists insists that only reproductions are exhibited.

S.M.A.K. and Guislain made for a fine diptych yesterday. The Guislain buildings are fine brick gothicky medieval revival. One of the outdoor spaces was described as the Meander. Everybody should have one of those available.
This is the front entrance way, not the Meander which was a small meditation garden with multiple paths. Not really a labyrinth but serving some of the same function. On the way back from supper last night, I happened on a similar garden with paths not far from my hotel. Meander away; it's Monday now, the museums are closed.

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