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Time and Time Again

Still from Reading of an Extract from Labyrinths by J.L. Borges
Time and Time Again
Conceptual Art on display at AKAG

There’s much food for thought in the Albright-Knox Looking at Tomorrow show of Conceptualist art. And served up succinct, because Minimalist art as well. Works from the ‘60s and ‘70s mainly, acquired by the gallery from the grand scale collection of art of this ilk of Giuseppe and Giovanna Panza.

And if you’re a bit shaky about just what is Conceptualist art—I’ve always been—help is provided in one of the artworks, by Robert Barry, consisting of a straightforward list of a dozen or so tell-tale characteristics, hand-lettered in pencil on the gallery wall. Such as that it is always changing, and that it may go unnoticed, but knowing of it changes it.

May go unnoticed is especially helpful in the encounter with a wall drawing by Sol LeWitt. LeWitt’s concept, that is. Executed by a team of local artists (as occurred for LeWitt’s scribble drawings around the staircase between the old and new buildings). You could easily miss this piece, which is just about invisible until—knowing or suspecting something’s there, because why would they leave such a huge wall space blank—gradually your eyes attune to the screen pattern of faintest pencil lines in three directions and four colors.

A work by David Lamelas is a silent film of an actress reading—you see her lips moving and the words in subtitles—from a Jorge Luis Borges essay entitled “A New Refutation of Time.” Wall explanatory text says Borges is arguing that “if individuals living at different points in time can have identical experiences, then time as we know it does not exist.” The wall text goes on with the argument, and by the end of it you’re almost convinced. Then you remember Heraclitus. How you can’t step into the same river twice. You or you and somebody else, I would guess. Two individuals can’t have the same experience.

Another work in the show addresses the same heady topic (and comes out on Heraclitus’ side). Roni Horn’s sculptural piece—or really two virtually identical pieces—each consisting of two metal disks somewhat smaller than manhole covers, one disk silvery, the other copper colored, located in different parts of the gallery, different corners, different rooms. In her label explanatory copy the artist states: “Obviously the notion of being identical is a purely ideal one since when you have two things, no matter how perfect the identity, you always have a this and a that, a here and a there.”

Another work, by artist Doug Wheeler, is an immersive light experience. An entirely white room—white walls, white floors, white ceiling—and one wall emanating light from a large light framework in the center that you can’t quite figure out just how it’s done but makes the whole room bluish smoky with light. It’s a little like walking into a Mark Rothko painting. Or Henry Vaughan poem. “I saw eternity the other night / Like a great Ring of pure and endless light, / All calm as it was bright...”

Joseph Kossuth has six posters with actual dictionary definitions of the word “nothing” or equivalent (“nada,” “niente,” etc.) in six languages. And Jene Highstein a room-size piece entitled Black Mound (Turtle). Black mound describes the piece perfectly, literally. Turtle is more evocative, but suggests other equally good possibilities. Whale? Island?

While conceptualist and minimalist and land artist Walter De Maria has an art film version of a cowboy Western movie that inverts the cliché main elements of that genre: near constant shoot-em-up action against a silent backdrop of sublime desert and mountains landscape. Lots of slow—to the point of tedious—panning of baked clay desert floor, scrub brush, and distant mountains, interspersed with brief occasional cowboy stuff. Boots and leather chaps and of course guns—a carbine rifle and vintage six-shooter—loaded and cocked as if in preparation for a gunfight showdown. The showdown when it comes consists of a minute or so of guns blazing, and we finally get facial views of the fighters, De Maria and fellow—or rival—land artist Michael Heizer. All in good fun. Apparently no land artist was hurt in the making of this movie.

The Panza collection show continues until February 7.

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