This past Fall my husband and I celebrated our 10 year wedding anniversary in Ireland. In Dublin we were able to see the Irish Museum of Modern Art’s current show, up through February 2016, titled “What We Call Love”. This ambitious show celebrates visual artists’ take on the ever-changing idea of love from the Surrealists to Louis Bourgeois and Jim Hodges. While our ideas of love change throughout time, the feeling is always the same. There were three pieces in the exhibition that I believe were the most salient in portraying the true feeling of love, not just the idea. These pieces are timeless and will remain relevant to any visual discussion of love.
Before I delve into the three pieces, it’s worth a detour to ask why most artists practicing now do not directly work with this theme? I imagine the feeling of love enters their work in one way or another, and that makes the work sing. But to actually choose to explore the journey that is love in a non-ironical way seems totally off-kilter in our culture today. I predict that the pendulum will swing again, and artists and consumers of art will require the element of love to become more frontal, less tangential and more obvious. There is not a time where I think more empathy, kindness, beauty and love are required to return us to innocence in one way or another.
Also, to clarify before continuing – love is not the opposite of hate. Hate may be a violent form of love and attraction, hate may be love veiled in fear, or love veiled in misunderstanding. The opposite of love is thinking. So in order to appreciate it, you actually can’t really think about it too much. There was a list made for PRI last year for the love holiday (Valentine’s) of 14 pieces that inspire love made by the MFA Boston. I would say out of the 14, only two chosen were really about love. And to think they had over 500,000 images to choose from! It is fair to say that choosing images about love may feel like nailing jello to a wall. I commend the curatorial staff a the IMMA for a thorough, curious and ambitious exhibit on “What We Call Love”.
Here are my top three pieces from the IMMA show:
1. Rebecca Horn, “High Moon”
Out of the many, many artworks with penises, vaginas, and various copulating bodies of all sexual orientations it was truly this piece by Rebecca Horn that magnificently describes the passionate side of love, the violent sexual side. It seems wrong to describe the piece further as it speaks bounds on its own. The curators did a magnificent job on placing the piece as it was in its own room with two separate entries – as it slowly moved and made subtle noises, one felt like a voyeur watching and wishing that nothing violent would happen while being completely attracted to the violent scene like a moth to the flame. And hoping no one would interrupt the peace of watching it from the other door. Much like something else.
We think of it as a sort of traffic accident of the heart. It is an emotion that scares us more than cruelty, more than violence, more than hatred. We allow ourselves to be foiled by the vagueness of the word. After all, love requires the utmost vulnerability. We equip someone with freshly sharpened knives; strip naked; then invite him to stand close. What could be scarier? – Diane Ackerman’s “A Natural History of Love
2. Louis Bourgeoise, “The Couple”
Louise Bourgeoise explored the world of love specifically in the arena of the domestic, and of the body. There are some frightening images in her oeuvre which lead people to the conclusion that she had a troubled, or at least confused, childhood. That said, she was also known as an ornery person. I believe that those who are most sensitive, and who love the hardest, tend to be hard on the exterior in order to protect their vulnerable inside. I believe this particular piece is about the specific part of love, the nurturing part of love, that must be protected. When someone is completely vulnerable to another there needs to be more than mere privacy to protect the union: a sparkling orb of glassy marbles seem like a nice cage to protect this embracing couple in this piece.
Important to note that LB is also one of the artists in the collection shared at the IMMA that has more titles of her work that include the word love (e.g. “I Love You”, “We Love You”, “I Love You, Do You Love Me”). Often her work feels like the child looking for parental reaction or approval – a sort of “am I worthy” sensation. Which I think motivates many artists actually.
3. Felix Gonzales Torres, “Untitled (Double Portrait)”
When there is true love the feeling is mutual, reciprocal, simple and beautiful. While his work is highly autobiographical, the work of Felix Gonzales-Torres is universal. The two identical circles, symbolizing two of the same, holds true regardless of sexual orientation. When you are in love, and the love is mutual, the feeling of being one with the other is incredibly peaceful. This is another of his works which is a perpetually replenished pile of posters. The idea of selflessness and giving away is also paramount to a healthy loving relationship whether with a lover, friend or family member.
“We need our own space to think and digest what we see. And we also have to trust the viewer and trust the power of the object. And the power is in the simple things.” – Felix Gonzales-Torres
If you are reading this in Ireland GO SEE IT!! It’s up through February of 2016. Peace and love – CHE
While I didn’t choose the works of Marcel Duchamp as one of my top three hits, I will say that I was touched by the line drawings included in the show of his. These were softly rendered, selected details of some famous paintings in art history with lovers in them. These discreet pieces were hanging next to what would be expected of him — the full iron first of irony in the face of love. The surreal soft/hard “Wedge of Chastity” was right next to his etchings after Cranach the Elder. Touching and confusing at once.
Not included in the exhibition as the timeline of the exhibit began almost 300 years or so after it was made, is the most stunning and timeless painting of love in the history of Western Art. More than the passionate kisses of “Kiss” named fame, or the countless nudes of adoring artists, the fully clothed portrait of “The Jewish Bride” by Rembrandt is simply put a painting painted with, and for, pure love. Period. If you have not seen this painting in person at the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, go forth! It’s worth the journey.
Last but not least on love – last week I watched the film by director titled “STOP” by Jeff Preiss. The director took over 2,500 100-ft camera rolls (354 assembled lab rolls) of 16mm film shot between 1995 and 2011 and edited in 2012 to create a collage of two hours worth of three-second snippets. All were home videos, plus videos of him on his travels and for his commercial film work and art gallery development. The thread to the snippets is the evolution of his child who was born a girl and by the end of the film has legally changed names and sex. It is rare for a man to direct the focus of his art so entirely on the domestic – I believe the work snippets helped him to buoy his ego in the working world (I totally get that). That said the film was gorgeous, thoughtful and an incredible gesture of love to his child.
Tagged: couple, Cranach, Felix Gonzales-Torres, High Moon, IMMA, Irish Museum of Modern Art, Louise Bourgeoise, Love, Love in Art, Marcel Duchamp, Rebecca Horn, Rembrandt, Rijksmuseum, The Jewish Bride, What We Call Love, Wolfgang Tilmans