Art is Art: Two Galleries

Monday November 12, 2012

I went to see Edward Tufte's gallery, ET Modern, at 547 West 20th Street. He's a sort of demigod of data visualization. Now he does art such as the above, which announces that "ART IS ART / AND EVERYTHING ELSE / IS EVERYTHING ELSE".

To get to ET Modern, I walked by the Jack Shainman Gallery at 513 West 20th Street. It looked interesting. I went in. It was showing a collection of work by Hank Willis Thomas called "What goes without saying".

Those are hand-painted blow-ups of old button designs. I explored these and other works, and then I went on to ET Modern to see Tufte's aluminum Feynman diagrams.

Tufte has made quite a lot of these aluminum Feynman diagrams. Some of them are hung like this, which brought to mind the most memorable thing I think I've ever overheard at a modern art museum:
Now this, this would go well with my sofa.

I do like Feynman diagrams quite a lot, to be sure. After I had gone to the two galleries once, I went back to "What goes without saying" to check it out again.

The second time at this gallery, I happened on a group that was being led by the artist himself, Hank Willis Thomas. It was a group of students whose professor knew the artist. I joined the group and felt welcome enough. Mr. Thomas talked about his work, something about his intent, his process, what he thought was good and interesting about various things - it was very nice. His work is not necessarily suitable for hanging over couches at country clubs. His work is communicative. It is emotional. It is meaningful. I am afraid my photo does not capture it very well. His work bears close examination. It bears consideration and reflection. At the very least, it has something to say.

I went to ET Modern once more to get a last picture. As I was leaving I asked the man who sat at a desk by the door, selling Tufte's books and things from the kind of ersatz gift shop there, why there was a big red "emergency stop" button by the exit. His explanation was a bit awkward, but he did demonstrate to me that it was completely non-functional, a kind of cartoon joke on the wall. What he said was, "It stops customers who don't buy things here."

I did think some about Tufte's work. "ART IS ART /  AND EVERYTHING ELSE / IS EVERYTHING ELSE" - I was more than a little tempted to declare that Tufte's work falls clearly on one side of that division, and that Thomas' work falls on the other. But there is still a lot to like in Tufte's work, his books, even his art.


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