No, that’s not a typo in my headline. I’m not commenting on your looks. I’m talking about the SFMOMA and Asian Art Museum collaborative exhibit that brings together gems from both museums’ collections and invites you to consider your own definition of the word gorgeous, which is the title of the show. “Gorgeous” is subjective, and beyond aesthetic pleasure, it can encompass things like lust and decadence, and it makes “beautiful” sound plain.
Seeing old favorites from SFMOMA in a new context at the Asian Art Museum, I realized how much I’d missed these pieces since SFMOMA shut down for its expansion project. I was walking around the galleries like, “Oh hi, Michael Jackson and Bubbles by Jeff Koons, I missed you!” The beloved gold and white porcelain sculpture of MJ and his monkey is so ridiculous, and its opulence and uniqueness are mocked by the fact that it’s an edition of three. Another Michael Jackson and Bubbles is currently on view at Koons’ polarizing retrospective at the Whitney in New York. Looking at this sculpture feels similar to looking at an elaborate cake, but it also sparks speculation about value in contemporary art and pop culture, and that’s why it is gorgeous to me. The exhibit also includes Koons’ glittering white self-portrait bust, which seems to be a definitive representation of how Koons views himself. He’s the Kanye of the art world.
Speaking of busts, Janine Antoni’s Lick and Lather busts made of chocolate and soap are also on view, and their maintenance always makes me wonder — how do you make chocolate archival? Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ gold beaded curtain gets the same type of reaction out of me. Who gets the job of restringing those gold beads when a strand comes loose? And with Lawrence Weiner’s series of conceptual phrases printed in vinyl and pasted on the wall by a preparator — who gets the honor of installing the Weiner? (I’m not a critic; I’m just a viewer who gets distracted by logistics.)
The juxtapositions are key in this exhibit. Antiquities are cleverly paired up with contemporary pieces in a way that makes the ongoing dialogue between old and new more blatant than ever. I loved seeing Beatriz Milhazes’ beautiful canvas of geometric floral designs near an illuminated Qur’an that shared similar shapes. An ancient miniature shrine that echoed the form of a large Ellsworth Kelly sculpture nearby was also strategically placed. Because the Asian Art Museum often focuses on antiquities, it’s always a delight to see contemporary work in the space, even if some of the blue chip pieces like a DuChamp readymade, Tracy Emin’s neon words and a Dan Flavin neon rainbow are placed a little awkwardly in the open spaces between galleries.
It’s hard not to see this show as a mash-up of hits from each museum’s collection, but the juxtapositions and recontextualization of these objects is what fascinates. For example, the placement of Rothko’s Number 14, 1960, which many familiar with SFMOMA’s collection will recognize, has an entirely different impact when viewed in a small, dark gallery at the Asian Art Museum. And beyond that, curators carefully selected such a wide range of objects that everyone can find something that defines their interpretation of “gorgeous.” There’s even a damn iPhone in this exhibit. I wasn’t ready to see it in an art museum, but I’m sure somebody is.
Gorgeous is on view through September 14, 2014, and don’t miss the thoughtful public programs held in conjunction with Gorgeous every first Thursday evening of the month. Coming up on July 10, there will be site-specific performances (that may include nudity!) and TopCoat Nail Studio will be adorning nails with designs inspired by the artwork in the show.