Last week, Geo and I had a dinner with a couple, both are artists. At the middle of the conversation, my friend claimed that art should be self-explanatory and ask no more than looking. (Oh, well. I guess the museum docents should all be laid off under his administration.)
The exhibition from Hernan Bas at the Brooklyn Museum shows the opposite.
Although the paintings are in general narrative, the figures are mystified and actions non-revealing. I feel that I am prying at the public space into someone’s private diary. (I guess facebooks have trained us unabashed of doing that.) To some extent, the exhibition is an invitation of being a voyeur, to peep Hernan touching his body erotically, or examine his day dreams. Yet at the same time his works refuse to be deciphered: They are neither the state of being nor the state of becoming, just lingering between ponderous literature reference, vivacious Victorian dandy and explosive structured paint layers. They are not much different from a politician’s answer to a touchy question: so much has been said with so many beautiful words, yet so little is meaningful or make any sense.
To some extent, this reflects why I have my reserves on some contemporary works: They refuse to be self-explanatory, or more precisely, they invite all sort of explanations.
Under the circumstances that no consensus or agreement exists, the criticism becomes democratized and every one has his say. This effect becomes mind-liberating when compared to the public’s interaction with works by old masters or even of the 19th century art. When viewing a painting on which numerous scholars have published studies from the biographies to paint analysis, we all feel intimidated or even stupid to speak out our own opinions. Yet for an emerging artist, there is no authoritative opinion (a lot of contemporary artists refuse to label or even comment on their works); therefore, the viewing invites thinking and probing or even questioning compared to passive accepting or adopting the official conclusions.
But what will the public see from the current Hernan Bas exhibition? In some paintings, the ambiguity defies one opinion more preferable against another yet more or less viewers can find some common grounds. However, the majority of them, like the turbulent water in dark palette, just reflects what are in viewers’ minds. If you look for it, you will find it. I have found some opinions pathetic, because with enough wording, even a mundane match box can be associated with architecture of Philip Johnson. I simply didn’t see commentator’s logic from the painting itself, instead I had to be dragged to the words that are half personal and intimate, half abstract and philosophical, thus leaving no room for others to participate. It is like a youtube response to a youtube video, no better and no worse, yet shedding no light on why the works are worth viewing.
Great art should be a duality of assured manifestation and defiant uncertainty. It would strike the minds like the first light to a new born baby, like a deafening fortissimo that blows away any doubt of its legitimacy regarding to subject, composition, techniques and colors. Yet the delicacy would invite the eyes to search further and defy any effort to frame it in words, like a pianissimo upon which words fail.
If you look for it, you will find it! Art criticism should not be exercised like a mind game. Let art speak for itself!