Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Matters of Faith at James Cohen Gallery

This Tuesday I finally managed to get over to James Cohen Gallery in the French Concession to see the Matters of Faith show but especially to see Nam June Paik's (the Buddha sitting in front of a TV watching itself). The show as a whole was really well done, with only four artists' works on display - one from Nam June Paik, two Anselm Kiefer pieces, a video by Bill Viola and an installation by Xu Zhen. The two Kiefer pieces were interesting: an assimilation of paint, clay, palms, plaster and some other materials used tomake two very earthy, yet somewhat majestic pieces. The palms were meant to invoke Christianity and thoughts of religion in the viewer. Personally I enjoyed the form moreso than the content (maybe that's just because I'm Catholic). Bill Viola's video showed two figures shrouded in darkness who slowly approach the camera, eventually passing under a waterfall that could not be seen beforehand. I still don't know whether the water was hidden with a trick of the light or in a more post-production phase. Either way the video was rather emotional and moving despite only being about 7 minutes long and having no sound. While watching it I could not help but think about resurrection or perhaps the concept of "seeing the light" a person may experience when they temporarily die in a hospotal. Our freind Xu Zhen also had a piece in the show, a model of a famous building in Tibet made entirely out of playing cards. It was made up of 3000 decks and is actually broke the Guiness World Record for largest house of cards. Again, the idea of faith is broguth up, with Zhen commenting on the fragility of faith and the situation between China and Tibet. Entertainment CompressedEntertainment Compressed was smaller than I had anticipated, but impressive nonetheless. Once again the idea of faith is touched upon, this time with the Buddha statue, however Paik simultaneously juxtaposes the actual statue with an electronic representation of the statue and has the both of them facing eachother. Both seem to accomplish the same thing which would, in a way, argue that seeing something on TV could be as good as actually seeing it in person. Also the concept of the TV and the digital world becoming a new sort of religion can be taken from Entertainment Compressed, which is even more relevant today than in 1994 when the piece was created.

Matters of Faith succeeded in bringing four artists from different places, who work in a variety of different media together, connnected via a similar and, as the show would argue, universal theme. Definitely worth a visit.

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