Powered by Google
Editors' Picks
Arts + Books
Rec Room
- - - - - - - - - - - -
Adult Personals
Adult Classifieds
- - - - - - - - - - - -
FNX Radio
Band Guide
MassWeb Printing
- - - - - - - - - - - -
About Us
Contact Us
Advertise With Us
Work For Us
RSS Feeds
- - - - - - - - - - - -

sponsored links
- - - - - - - - - - - - -
Sex Toys - Adult  DVDs - Sexy  Lingerie


Gender benders? (continued)

The ultimate dialogue in "Speed, Style, and Beauty" is the one between life and death. Speed is the driver’s hope of outrunning destiny, but it’s also his — almost invariably his — date with destiny. The 550 Spyder is the car in which James Dean met his death. We’re spared the sight of the Bugatti Type 57G, the car in which Jean Bugatti, just 30, died during a test run in 1939 while trying to avoid a bicyclist (his father collapsed on the spot eight years later and died shortly thereafter), or the 156 F1 Ferrari in which Wolfgang von Trips and 14 spectators died at Monza in 1961. Those would have been even grimmer reminders of the price of art.

The catalogue for "Speed, Style, and Beauty" ($60 hardback, $37.50 paper) mostly lives up to the PR hype ("breathtaking"). There’s the now expected disconnect between exhibit and catalogue: in place of the show’s 1988 Porsche 959, the publication describes 14 other cars from the Lauren collection, including a 1973 Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona Spyder that proves Ferraris come in black as well as red. The audio guide flubs the elder Bugatti’s name (it’s ETT-ore, not E-TORR-e); the catalogue makes painful reference to the "flare of Italy." But Ralph Lauren knows cars; his commentary on the audio guide confirms him as a driver and not just a collector. Malcolm Rogers would have us believe that cars are art. He’s right.

Chairs, in their own domestic, denigrated women’s-art way, have always been art, but what’s on view at the Gardner is a little more complex. In the weeks before Dayanita Singh’s arrival at the museum in 2002, she had been photographing empty interiors in Calcutta. Inspired by the Gardner’s chairs, she went on to meet furniture scholar Fausto Calderai the following year, "conversing with chairs" in Fiesole and Florence. Comprising five parts, "Chairs" is the product of her dialogues with Calderai, designer Andrea Anastasio (with whom she traveled to the South Indian city of Coimbatore in 2003), filmmaker Michael Sheridan (part of whose video documentary can be seen just off the gift shop), and the Gardner staff.

Singh’s photographs encircle the special-exhibition gallery, 25 of them ranged in a single row at eye level, with no labels. The handout at the entrance to the gallery will tell you which ones are from India and which from Italy and which from Massachusetts (three shots of Gropius family furniture and a chair from the Gardner’s Raphael Room), but it hardly matters. Whereas "Cars" makes a fetish of identification, of objectification, of names as objects, "Chairs" strands you in real time and space. And whereas you interact with each of Ralph Lauren’s automobiles in your imagination, Singh’s photos do their own interacting — the Gardner might as well have called the show "Chairs Conversing." Not just chairs, either, but tables, doorways, windows, mirrors, portraits, wide expanses of gleaming floor, and countless books, these last often spilling out of their shelves and piling up on the tables and chairs. The chairs themselves come in all varieties: theater seats, folding chairs, armchairs, chaises longues, reclining chairs, what looks like a barber chair, even cushions on the floor. (No rocking chairs, however, and no sofas.) Singh shoots them from a middle distance that draws your attention to their surroundings: as they wait for someone to sit in them, they’re straining to hear what’s going on in the other rooms or outside. Poised in an empty space between a vase and a lamp on one side and a telephone on the other, Gropius House Chair (Lincoln) looks small and vulnerable to ambush from whatever’s outside the huge picture window behind it. Covered Chairs (Coimbatore) draws the eye to its sea of polished floor, above which the three chairs seem to levitate; it’s as if their owners had died and they’d been prepared for suttee. All the messy reality that’s been designed out of Ralph Lauren’s cars has found its way into Dayanita Singh’s photographs.

That’s the beginning of "Chairs." In an alcove outside the special-exhibition gallery, Singh and Anastasio have created "Amnesia," whereby Singh’s photographs are projected onto the back of an 18th-century Italian walnut chair in a way that invites you to contemplate the relationship between image and object, "fine" art and "decorative" art. In the Long Gallery on the third floor are displayed the tiny contact-sheet black books that Singh made as presents for Calderai and Anastasio. (A similar black book functions as the "Chairs" catalogue; it’s as minimal as the "Cars" catalogue is effusive.) In the second-floor Little Salon, Singh and Calderai have rearranged the blue 18th-century Venetian chairs and sofa; instead of looking ready to host a party, the room now appears to be in the middle of one, with chairs drawn up in groups that suggest social hierarchies, latecomers, gossip, people trying to butt in or eavesdrop or pry someone away. And in "Conversations," the excerpt from Michael Sheridan’s documentary, you can see Singh and Calderai sitting on the floor and sorting through photographs, or Calderai and the Gardner staff white-glove-moving the furniture in the Little Salon, Sheridan’s split-screen technique underlining the "dialogue" nature of the entire "Chairs" endeavor. That should return you to the special-exhibition gallery for a second look at Singh’s photos — which, like Lauren’s cars, are different each time you see them. "Still and still moving," T.S. Eliot would have said. Totally different and yet the same.

page 1  page 2 

Issue Date: March 11 - 17, 2005
Back to the Art table of contents

about the phoenix |  advertising info |  Webmaster |  work for us
Copyright © 2005 Phoenix Media/Communications Group