Is there an order in which it’s ‘best’ to encounter a series of artworks? Does such a question matter, or is it irrelevant? (And might the answer well depend on familiarity or expertise?) How do we, as viewers, respond to – and marshal coherently for others – the subjective associations that accumulate during individual paths through objects, images, sounds, events and performances presented as shared experiences? The 2012 Whitney Biennial with its subterranean theme of the labyrinth, the dark twists and turns of which thread through many of the works on display, gently formulates such questions, encouraging its audience to move around the space and pieces as they see fit, to meander, deviate, turn back and digress. Works by the participating artists are mixed across the five floors of the Whitney’s distinctive grey concrete monolith, often unmoored from their didactic wall texts, prompting either a little detective work or joyful release. One piece by Lutz Bacher, Selections from the Celestial Handbook (2011), comprises multiple small black-and-white photographs of nebulae, stars and planets scattered throughout the exhibition in a broken constellation, underlining the inherent risibility of attempts to map and catalogue. There is, of course, more than a hint of anxiety bestowed by such apparently total freedom, a fear of taking the wrong path, of getting lost or trapped.
As I moved through the Cy Twombly retrospective at Tate Modern, my eye was caught by a series of 24 drawings called Poems to the Sea. Executed on small squares of white paper whilst Twombly was staying in Sperlonga, a tiny fishing village perched on the coast between Rome and Naples, these works are at once drawings, poems, and, it seemed to me, musical scores. Numbers march at intervals across the surface of the drawings – you can almost imagine the artist beating in time as he put them down – ‘one, two, three, four – five.’ Horizon lines merge into stave lines. Splodges of plaster and accented pencil marks – whilst conjuring up waves and spray – become a score for their own performance.