when art is so good it hurts
Glitter. Just returning from floating in the bubble that is Aspen i am struck by Twitter images. A dead Palestinian baby, killed in a fire bombing, preciously wrapped in the flag of his country, a dog repeatedly stabbed in the head by someone “that did not like it”, continued police brutality of pathological proportion – a magnificent lion of Zimbabwe killed by a wealthy American (yes, he is one lion of many a year)…. and i reflect on…glitter.
The Aspen Art Museum is presenting Night and Day the first survey in the US of Chris Ofili’s work. The work is breathtaking in its scope, scholarship, technical attributes and the Museum’s curatorial approach. The exhibition is happening concurrently with a small Casterline Goodman Gallery show titled Only You, by the wickedly smart Carlos Rolón/Dzine whose works are filled with light and glitter and are fantastical in their presence. But, as everyone knows, even those who live their lives jetting in and out of Aspen, all that glitters is not gold and what things appear to be most often are nothing at all what they seem.
Volumes can be written about the five galleries filled with Ofili’s work. The work from the 90’s which is probably most well known is magnetizing in its presence. A bit larger than human scale, the works embrace you with swirls of color and moments of light or push you back with their power and pull you in again with small moments that must be understood to see the larger whole. They are magic. The other galleries are, too, filled with a back and forth play of pulling the viewer in and out. Much of the work filled with secrets that only patience as well as a keen understanding of the history of art will divulge. Will some miss the message? Sure – but others will not.
To watch the trajectory of Ofili’s work – the rise, the contemplation, and the failures, can be painful – but there is more. Perhaps the most stunning of all galleries is a series of large works that are installed in a very dark room. Reminiscent of Rothko’s chapel – the works quickly loose that reference and become a particular power of their own. Filled with the immense pain of the times in which we live. The longer one works with these paintings the more generous they become. The viewer must work physically. In fact, they must dance in the dark with each of these pieces to learn their truth. Like Aspen, you enter in a seemingly blissful and elevated way to only see an unfortunate reality. These works are both universal and personal. Painted with wisdom and presented in the same way – they are a complete bow with which the viewer must be present and willing to bear witness.
That the works by Ofili and Rolón are being shown simultaneously could have been a happy accident, however in a place so heavily choreographed, Casterline Goodman might as well just take credit for it – either way. Who will know, right?
Rolón’s small, sweet, bright and visually arresting work is a magnificent play on the culture in which it is presented. Reflecting ( literally, as the work is made of mirrors) the world in which they inhabit. The works play silly jokes or unveil painful realities in a place filled with fucked up plastic surgeries, fragmented lifestyles, and very sharp edges. Rolon’s works are absolutely tight technically and are functioning as the grossest metaphor in which everyone is willing to engage. As if it is not happening and we do not know it is happening – we are surrounded with beautiful, fragmented, reflections of who we all are and we know it. Whether consciously or unconsciously the appeal of this work, in addition to its pure beauty, is its great honesty. To speak with Rolón for a few moments is to know that we all know the difference between fact and fiction whether we are willing to admit it or not – and perhaps more importantly that the only thing that separates our personal miseries is the way we play our cash.
These two shows must be seen together with the understanding that art now, at its finest, can be lyrically deceptive and remains a painful reflection of the world in which we live. We can live in that world once we see it – or we can choose to understand the message and work to change the energies that have created the pulse these two artists have so eloquently identified.