Life on Mars by Nic Coviello

Artist, Nic Coviello, recently visited "Life on Mars" while on a trip to Pittsburg. He wrote me to tell me his thoughts, and what he said got me so interested I asked him if he would write a post for me. By total coincidence I just met Jason Busch, a curator from the Carnegie Museum, because he is one of the fellow residents in the ITE program this year. I don't know if he was part of the team who worked on the Biennia,l but the timing is interesting either way. Enjoy Nic's piece. –Vincent Romaniello

Life on Mars, the 55th Carnegie International (up until January 11, 2009) had some very engaging stuff that had you digging deeper into materials and ideas and politic than most large-scale thematic surveys.

You can enter through the curator’s opening questions and find a website that is very well constructed, with capsule comments about each of the artists represented.

First of all I have to mention that the selection of the artists and the installation of the artwork in this marvelous building helps provide a rewarding experience of discovery, and when really good, self-reflection.

My numero uno artist/installation in the exhibition is Mike Kelley’s room of large glass vessels that house crystal like architectural cities. They are tethered to industrial tanks, supported by exquisite bold “pedestals” and appear to be under some kind of pressurized system. Each of the Kandor vessels is somehow under surveillance and its internal life is projected on the walls. The space is dark except for the projections and the large glass vessels. The whirling particles in the projections provide grit for its aural dimension. It looks and feels as though you have tripped over to Krypton and become a spectator in Jorel’s garden.

Oh, the building’s contribution: Kelley’s installation is on the ground floor of a two-tier space. Standing in the middle of room, captured by these pulsing vessels, you look up and notice in the dim light that over each Kandor projection is a classical Greco-Roman sculpture acting as sentry and observing your every move.

Sasnal, Stingel and Tilmams. The work of each of these guys share in some way visual elements and/or POV that exist at the edges of my own work - so of course I was more engaged and critical of their work. Wilhelm Sasnal’s small scale paintings are content loaded, direct and when really compelling Raw. Rudolf Stingel’s large scale double-licious canvas is an elegant fortissimo about a single note slight of hand, and Wolfgang Tillmans’ techno photography exists to explore new ideas and crossovers from traditional formalism in painting into its own chemical plane.

Why did I like Cao Fei’s three-part video so much? Was it the dreams of prosperity and happiness in Chinese manufacturing? Capitalism eats a culture? Ballet of beads and light bulbs? This is a point and shoot video but the content cannot be ignored.

Apichatpong Weerasethakul from Thailand. A four-screen piece that juggles a number of emotional responses. You are at once a spectator and a witness.

Oh, and another installation, this one by Thomas Hirschhorn cannibalizes the space it occupies and creates a disorienting and strange cave like world of wrapping tape fixtures, walls, hysterical forms and personal garbage. The floors are uneven the walls collapse on you and then envelope specialized caves of personal experiences: stalagmite books and stalactite hooters.
Who was that guy?

Now the third and last installation I would like to mention concerns the present, the obvious, the graffiti artist and his five-man stacked and animated tag team. When you come upon Barry McGee’s assemblage it is immediately humorous and then the questions begin. What is it that is about to erupt from the optically charged and pregnant walls? Do the graffit-ites perform some Cirque before they attack the ceiling?

Just as with the Kelley and the Hirshorn and the Sasnal, there’s more to this artist than you can collect on your first meeting.

For a real good day at the Carnegie Museum of Art you should also make it a full day and check out the their permanent collection. There’s some high quality works out there.

First time visit?.. There’s a reciprocal admissions agreement with the PMA and you can get a really good lunch at reasonable prices in their café.

Image above, Rudolf Stingel, Untitled 2000 from the Paula Copper Gallery.

–Nic Coviello