The overlap of the Michelangelo Pistoletto exhibition Pistoletto Politico at Luxembourg & Dyan and Giuseppe Penone’s Spazio di Luce at the Whitechapel Art Gallery allowed formal and conceptual flickers of reflection to pass between the two. The burnished steel surfaces of Pistoletto’s Mirror Paintings from the 1960s, four of which featured in Pistoletto Politico, explore the mirror’s simultaneous incorporation and exclusion of the viewer, correlating its ability to unify, multiply, split and fragment with the contradictions of political consciousness. In Penone’s seminal 1970 action Rovesciare i Propri Occhi (To Reverse One’s Eyes), documented by the archival display contextualising Penone’s Bloomberg Commission, the artist obscured his vision with mirrored contact lenses that reconfigured his sensory relationship to the environment, while integrating glassy fragments of the landscape into his body.
Walter De Maria, The New York Earth Room, 1977. Long-term installation at 141 Wooster Street, NYC. Photo John Cllett. c. Dia Art Foundation
It’s been nearly a year since I visited Walter De Maria’s Earth Room in New York, and although the experience has remained with me, it has returned with increased intensity over the past few weeks. Perhaps – without wanting to be too British about it – the recent weather back this side of the Atlantic has been having an effect: the pre-emptive autumnal heaviness of the summer air, soupy with moisture; the soggy, waterlogged ground; the pervasive scents of leaf mulch and something reminiscent of wet animal fur. This all combines to take me back, somewhat counter-intuitively, to several square feet of prime Manhattan real estate, basking under a September sun in 2011. It was hot, New York was slightly overwhelming, I couldn’t find the friends I was supposed to be finding De Maria’s Earth Room with – and I couldn’t find the room. After several minutes of fluster in this vein, the friends and the door appeared simultaneously, and we staggered up several sleek and rather corporate flights of apartment stairs. More fluster ensued in the attempt to find the right floor, the right door, and when we did there was an aloof man sitting at the entrance desk, like a doorman guarding the kind of hotel that is very much outside of your price range. But beyond him lay a thick, velvety expanse of earth, filling the building from front to back.
It must be a lonely old life for Richard Long – all those solitary treks, the transitory marks of his trajectory through the landscape recorded in melancholy photographs and textworks. Melancholic, but elegiac; Long’s observations and arrangements are uplifting as well as meditative, involving deft visual, word and number play, conveying a mind that delights in exploring, documenting and assessing the natural world. Intriguing as the texts and photographs of Long’s land-sculpture are, they could become lost in a gallery by themselves – it is the strength and weakness of Long’s work that it is mediated through secondary sources – luckily, this survey includes gallery specific works. Stones arranged in circles pool across the floor, creating micro-terrains that encourage the eye to investigate. Particularly striking are the works created by splattering mud directly onto the walls, which express the bracing experience of striking out across country into the embrace of the elements. Although whoever has to clean up afterwards might not view them so poetically…