Tauba Auerbach show at MOCA Cleveland melds art, physics (photos)
Tauba Auerbach show at MOCA Cleveland melds art, physics (photos)
CLEVELAND, Ohio – When Leonardo da Vinci sketched water falling into a pool or flowing past an obstacle, he bridged science and art to reveal the beauty and wonder of physical forces that govern the universe.
Tauba Auerbach, the 36-year-old New York artist whose work is the focus of a challenging, austere and subtly beautiful exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland, is a breaking the da Vinci code, in her own new way.
Auerbach operates in the space between art and science, revealing the unexpected beauty of fundamental physical facts that are always present and always capable of inspiring wonder and awe, if only we paid attention.
Her show, entitled “Induction,” takes its name literally from a four-screen video installation on view, in which she induced tiny droplets of oil to bounce in pools of the same medium under the influence of sound waves.
Instead of dissolving into the fluid bath underneath them, the droplets bounce like tennis balls on a sensuously flexible trampoline, emulating the behavior of electrons in quantum mechanics, but on a macroscopic scale.
As MOCA states in a gallery handout, the show’s title also suggests “the potential of form and rhythm to induce altered states of consciousness.”
Along with the video projections of her “pilot wave” experiment, the exhibit includes eight large abstract paintings in which Auerbach scraped rhythmic wave patterns into layers of wet acrylic paint, plus a single, extremely delicate sculpture made by the artist out of flame-heated rods of borosilicate glass.
The sculpture, resembling a giant, computerized insect with straight limbs and feelers, or an abstracted human body, lies splayed out on a blue-colored, high-tech physical therapy table like an exotic organism offered up on a tray for contemplation.
The need to lean in
The challenge in the show is that it’s visually sparse and requires a viewer to lean in to make the most of the experience. It’s worth the effort because Auerbach has an ability to create a sense of awe about the world, and the forces that govern it.
The show’s dramatic installation helps by setting a tone of intrigue. The projections, paintings and sculpture are displayed in the main exhibit gallery on the fourth floor of MOCA, which has been redesigned as a single, darkened space with deep turquoise walls.
The effect is like that of entering a movie set depicting the high-tech lair of a villain in a James Bond film, but without the air of menace and malevolence. Instead, the mood is meditative and mysterious, blending the aura of a laboratory and a place of worship.
Paintings as architecture
Pools of light illuminate the paintings, which stand assertively erect in the middle of the gallery floor like freestanding architectural panels, and the centrally placed glass sculpture, which functions as the show’s vulnerable-looking focal point
The exhibition’s soundtrack is a 1970 sound installation by French composer Eliane Radigue, a major figure in the world of minimalist electro-acoustic music. Auerbach sought Radigue’s participation after MOCA Senior Curator Andria Hickey invited the younger artist to conceive her exhibition in collaboration with a partner.
Radigue’s composition, “OMNHT,″ an acronym for “One More Night,” is conveyed through 60 small speakers embedded within the walls of the gallery to emit sounds that hum and thrum at pitches that can sound mechanical and alien, or deeply human, like snatches of Tibetan Buddhist throat singing.
By sitting on benches at the east and west sides of the gallery, visitors can also feel the vibrations of Radigue’s composition while contemplating Auerbach’s works, which also explore waves of energy, but in ways different than that of the composer.
Student of the East
Slim and ethereal in appearance and style, Auerbach described herself in an interview last week in the gallery as a student of Taoism, the Chinese philosophy of living in harmony with the underlying order of the universe, and as a practitioner of qigong, a Chinese system of exercise that promotes health and spirituality.
She sees connections between these practices and advanced physics, which she studied at Stanford and continues to pursue by reading and by attending conferences on topics including the link between mind and matter.
“I think it’s really exciting to hang out with ideas that are not just on the edge of my own understanding, but on the edge of our collective understanding,” she said. “I’m just really interested in seeing where all those things intersect. I think there’s meaning in that intersection.”
Studio as lab
Auerbach’s work involves highly precise studio processes that almost sound like scientific experiments in themselves.
She made her paintings by stretching yards of canvas on a hinged table that can easily be switched from vertical to horizontal.
After coating the surface with a base layer of color, which she allows to dry, Auerbach sprays on additional layers of wet acrylic paint and then scrapes through them at one go with a device that lightly excavates the surface, creating random wave patterns that evoke everything from feathers and exotic calligraphy to the dappled shapes of altocumulus clouds.
It’s a high-risk process in which hours of meticulous preparation can instantly lead to success or disaster.
“I paint and paint and paint, make and make and make, and then edit very harshly at the end,” Auerbach said. “The majority of the work in doing this is the preparation; not just preparing the surface, but preparing myself so I’m in the right state to do this because I think that what I’m editing for in the end is some sense of authenticity. That’s just something you feel, and you get, or you don’t.”
The color contrasts created by scraping through layers of wet paint give Auerbach’s paintings a scintillating optical intensity that serves as a reminder that color represents wavelengths of energy visible as light.
It makes sense here to refer again to Leonardo, who enjoined fellow artists to stimulate their imaginations by looking at random stains on a plaster wall.
Auerbach’s lush and evocative but strikingly austere wave paintings bring to mind Leonardo’s statement that artists should “stop sometimes and look into the stains of walls, or the ashes of a fire, or clouds, or mud or like places, in which, if you consider them well, you may find really marvelous ideas.”
In Auerbach’s work, you’ll find marvelous ideas, delivered with poise, restraint and grace.
ReviewWhat’s up: “INDUCTION: Tauba Auerbach + Éliane Radigue” Venue: Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland Where: 11400 Euclid Ave., Cleveland. When: Through Sunday June 10. Admission: $9.50. Call 216-421-8671 or go to mocacleveland.org.