A large room, flooded by light on the day of my visit. A black Yamaha baby grand piano in the middle, isolated: no bench, no pianist. On the floor, some black dust: was the piano planed down, was its varnish grated, is the dust made of shavings? A melody plays by itself: a vaguely familiar air, obviously played as if by a beginner. Then, after a slow walk down the long access ramp, a closer look: the piano keys are automatically pressed and released, one by one, and, in fact, there is an electronic control unit that commands it all. The –presumed– artificial black snow on the floor does not melt, the –supposed– pianist is not here. As for the audible melody, it is a clumsy interpretation of an emblematic tune of the last European revolution, which took place here, in Portugal: the end of an era, the end of a great hope (even if the air is still sung in Portugal: the government is sometimes “Grandoled”). And, to boot, a lozenge of light on the wood floor, and a pretty, smiling museum guard.
This extremely simple, melancholic installation is the work of Liam Gillick; its title is Factories in the Snow; it’s in display at the Serralves Museum; it’s the first of a series of four interventions by the artist in the museum’s rooms. In May, Gillick’s interpretation of Guy Debord’s Jeu de la Guerre [A Game of War] (1987) will be presented. I see this series as something like a conjugation, a play on language and concepts as much as on objects, a deconstruction of space. And I stay here, for a long time, to listen –even if it grates on my ears–, to watch the interplay of light with the various shapes, to be amazed –like a child– by the piano keys in motion, to let my mind wander, unburdened.
In the other rooms, there is a remarkable exhibition by Wolfgang Tillmans (which my next article will address), and there is also the first of two exhibitions from the Sonnabend collection (the second one will focus on photography and might inspire longer remarks on my part). It is a very good exhibition, but what can I say about it? Should I studiously recapitulate what we know of the Pop Art and Arte Povera movements? Should I spin the tale of the Sonnabends, deserving gallerists, true pioneers who built a transatlantic bridge for art? There are many well-known artworks in the exhibition –indeed, the Sonnabends had the knack of identifying future icons–, constituting a partial anthology of art in the second half of the twentieth century, from Andy Warhol to Michelangelo Pistoletto, from Anselm Kiefer to Jasper Johns, from Piero Manzoni to Arman. It is very “museum-y”, unemotional, didactical, and predictable. There are few surprises: a quite vibrant Sol Lewitt recently drawn on the wall, or Robert Watts’ rendition of Picasso’s signature in red neon tubes, like a sign for a bar.
One instant favorite, though, at the very end: a ground installation by Barry Le Va, at the same time a map and a landscape, mixing metals and fabrics, dark and light tones, matt and glossy finishes, massive and scattered shapes, whole and fragmented pieces –order and chaos. A meditative artwork, echoing my visit.
Photographs by Lunettes rouges
Original publication date by Lunettes Rouges: February 8, 2015.
Translation by Lucas Faugère