Thursday, May 26, 2005

Tim Hawkinson

I went this afternoon to the Whitney Museum, with the goal, admittedly, of seeing the Cy Twombly exhibit (alas), but the experience was far from a wash. Before I launch into discussing Hawkinson's work, respect is surely due to the Whitney for devoting a room to recent lithographs. While there was a curious family relationship between the works shown (tending towards the busy, painterly, and dark), a few pieces stood out: Mehretu's, of course, and then Carrol Dunham's, an artist who was new to me. I'll look out for his? her? pieces in the future.

An entire floor of the Whitney was devoted to the work of Tim Hawkinson. Without reading any of the curatorial texts, within a couple of rooms I was saying to my friend "This guy has got to be a West Coast artist." Without savvier art-critic vocabulary available, I'm left saying that the "hey man, that's neat" factor marks the West Coast artist. And as a Berkeley child accompanied by another Californian hippie child, I wandered through this exhibit saying "hey, look at that--wow, that's cool." A perhaps more intelligent analysis follows after the jump, but I'm not promising much.

Hawkinson works in a dizzying number of media: velvet paintings, oil, drawing, fingernail-clipping sculptures, installation, sound-installation, mechanical realizations of concepts, plexiglass wall installations, and that's just the beginning. He tends to favor a do-it-yourself aesthetic: the machine that continually recreates his autograph, for example, is fashioned of a yellowed disk with jerry-rigged nails, grooves, and hammered and rehammered pistons. All of the machinary is laid bare.

One shocking piece, shocking perhaps in its simplicity, is the "Emoter," a close-up photograph of the artist with moving elements. According to the random calculations of a very simple machine on view, eyebrows, eyelids, and lips move around; yet, as the left and right sides move independently, the effect is totally disorienting.

Sometimes one wonders if the rush to realize an idea hasn't compromised the quality of realization. His wonderful H.M.S.O., a kind of dream-catcher rendered in nautical models, with rigged masts projecting where webbing would in the Native American version, shows the signs of many a last minute supergluing--and there's even a supermarket price-tag on one dowel. The armored knight who has seemingly succumbed to some horrible invading virus--a powerful piece--still shows some untreated polyeurathane under one armpit.

These are quibbles. There is so much in this exhibit that excites me that I feel justified in wanting slightly more. For example, there is a wonderful installation called "Drip," in which a white, tangled, plasticized "tree" emits drips into carefully calibrated metal buckets. The sounds were lovely, but too infrequent. And the tree itself? Extraordinary! I wanted it to branch across the entire gallery. As an installation, it should have invaded the space. More! More!

Here is a link to the Whitney's PR on the exhibit. It seems as though he has been pretty savvy about his PR (some of his art suffered somewhat from his attempt to justify it to the "process" crowd), which might account for the non-obviousness of links online to images of his stuff.


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