Your ‘Gorgeous’

Tracey Emin, Fantastic to Feel Beautiful Again

Tracey Emin, Fantastic to Feel Beautiful Again, 1997; © Tracey Emin. All rights reserved, DACS, London / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; photo: Ian Reeves

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.

Jeff Koons, Michael Jackson and Bubbles, 1988
Jeff Koons, Michael Jackson and Bubbles, 1988; ; © Jeff Koons, photo: Ben Blackwell

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.

Felix Gonzalez-Torres, “Untitled” (Golden), 1995
Felix Gonzalez-Torres, “Untitled” (Golden), 1995; © The Felix Gonzalez-Torres Foundation, Courtesy Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York; photo: Ian Reeves

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.)

Qur’an, approx. 1550. Iran
Qur’an, approx. 1550. Iran

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.

Mark Rothko, No. 14, 1960
Mark Rothko, No. 14, 1960; © 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, photo: Ben Blackwell

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.

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Author

Kristin Farr

Kristin Farr is the creator and producer of KQED's Emmy Award-winning web video series, Art School, and she is also a contributing editor for Juxtapoz magazine. Her artwork has been exhibited at galleries around the Bay Area including YBCA, Fifty24SF, Anno Domini and The Bedford Gallery. Her FarrOut art app for iOS was released in 2013. She lives in the East Bay and her favorite color is all of them.

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