This is my informal review of the Rineke Dijkstra Reytrospective currently at the Guggenheim.
I must first disclose that I am rarely a fan of photographic attempts at art. Unlike just about any other artistic medium, photography is so cheap and easy and voluminous that it seems to drown itself in oceans of ubiquitous mediocrity.
I left the Dijkstra Retrospective a fan of her artistic work and merit. The images used to advertise this show I think do it a disservice. The photos of gangling teenagers are inseparable from one another. Like Warhol, Dijkstra's context is serial. A single photograph lacks the ambient charisma that viewing a series of these pieces offers.
In one series, Dijkstra's photos of teenagers posing at the edge of a beach present an intellectual sweetness that is hauntingly familiar to adult viewers. The subjects are all too humanly average. these are not fashion models. These are pictures of the human limbo that teenage immaturity force us all to endure and transcend. This juxtaposition of teenagers standing on a beach that exists at the whim of nature beautifully complements the natural insecurity that these models in fact embody. These photos represent an uncertain in-between space and time. This is the power of these figures.
Another series are a set of videos of young people dancing. Again, I must confess that I rarely care for art videos. They demand precious time and often fail to deliver a value add beyond what could have been a still piece well done.
Dijkstra's videos however isolate each dancer in a neutral space that acts as a metaphysical void through which we watch their actions. And this is key - while their dance is a performance, the performance exists within a documentary set of actions to which we bear witness. There is a beginning, middle, and end to all of Dijkstra's videos. The middle sections are what the subjects think its all about.
The beginning and end sections serve to frame and subvert that premise. The result is neither a narrative nor a story. These dance videos are studies in the human behavior of young adults - first as self-conscious subjects and then as actors through which the music unleashes the sub-conscious. The videos are hypnotic and riveting.
My wife and I attended this show together. Kathy took advantage of the audio headphone commentary device and I chose not to thinking that it would not add value to what I wanted to simply enjoy as an artist looking at other artists. It was a mistake on my part. The audio commentary includes interviews with Dijkstra's subjects who talk about their experiences as subjects, what they were thinking, and how they view it now.
Another video installation involves a multi-screen exercise in which school children attempt to explain a Woman Weeping painting (presumably a Picasso) that we as observers never see. The result, again, is (almost too predictably) fascinating. But it works and it works well. A similar video shows up later in the show in which a young girl is asked to listen to her favorite op song. The girl reveals herself to be most comfortable singing along. The silences in between reveal the insecurity of self.
There are numerous other series that represent the body of Dijkstra's work and I recommend them all wholeheartedly. This is an outstanding show. The fact that it is coupled with Art of Another Kind and the Thannhauser Collection is just all the more reason to prioritize this show when you are in the city.
I found the Frank Lloyd Wright exhibit disappointing. I must remain neutral about the Kandinsky show - he is simply one of my very favorite artists of that period. Always a treat to see.