On Friday, February 1, the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD) (a Knight Arts grantee) held the opening reception for their latest show, the highly conceptual “When Attitudes Became Form Become Attitudes.” The exhibit features contributions from 80 contemporary artists and more food for artistic thought than could rightly be absorbed in an opening preview. The show itself is a re-staging of “Live In Your Head: When Attitudes Become Form (Works – Concepts – Processes – Situations – Information),” an exhibit curated by Harald Szeemann in the 1969 that explored new tendencies in art at the time.
The MOCAD show adds parenthetically, ”(a restoration-a remake-a rejuvination-a rebellion)” as context for the work presented, which ranges across a multitude of media. While there are many aesthetically appealing pieces within the show, much of it required supplemental reading on my part to understand its context and message, making a return visit during a lower-traffic hour necessary to create an informed impression of the body of work as a whole. However, there were a few pieces that jumped out on the first pass.
“Crocodile Tears (2011)” by Wilfredo Prieto appears at first to be an unattended puddle of water on the floor. A cursory glance into the rafters reveals a medical IV bag full of fake tears hanging far above the gallery floor, potentially delivering the eponymous rain of disingenuity onto unsuspecting art patrons. I also enjoyed “Installation (Banana Peel)“ by Adriana Lara, the presence of which prompted one young attendee within my earshot to ask her mother, “Wait, is that art?”
My favorite piece was “Untitled” by Kirsten Pieroth, a shelf-top installation featuring a collection of labeled jars housing the residual output from her process of boiling books and straining all traces of paper pulp from the liquid. What’s left in each jar is, theoretically, the “essence” of a given literary work. I found this piece to be a compelling embodiment of one of my own ideas of represented knowledge. I feel that people commonly conflate owning a lot of books with reading a lot of books, or possession of books to be the same as possession of the knowledge contained within those books. Arguably, a shelf of jars of boiled books represents the same amount of knowledge as a shelf of dusty books sitting unread – the latter being a fairly standard household fixture. I certainly found this piece to be a charming quirk on the standard bookshelf, and may consider replacing my set of outdated encyclopedias with a tidy row of canning jars.
Congratulations to the MOCAD staff utilizing script and display by Jens Hoffmann on a complex installation. Overall, the show presents us with much to consider about process, method and the nature of art. Luckily it will remain on display at the MOCAD through the end of March, so be sure to stop by once, twice or more. Just watch your step!
MOCAD: 4454 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-832-6622; mocadetroit.org.