"It's just they're so precious and aloof about it all," I said, trying to keep my voice down. "This whole hushed hallowed atmosphere is ludicrous - especially after coming from the Met, where you can take all the pictures you want of Van Goghs and Picassos, it seems absurdly overprotective of shapes and forms that you can see - well, anywhere. On the rail track, in the sky, or just staring for too long at a blank wall."
We were at a minimalist art gallery, a short train ride up the Hudson River valley from New York. The gallery is in a converted Nabisco factory, and frankly I would have preferred a nice packet of Triscuits over the stark and often rubbishy works I was looking at - fluorescent tubes in unappealing hues, bits of grubby white paper tacked up on the walls, and, worst of all, some Japanese dude who occasionally painted the date on a bit of old canvas, and collected them. The blurb for this installation teetered between the outrageously ironic and deadly awestruck. It even described how the 'chosen font' had changed over the years, and the 'amazing' two canvasses painted... whoa! in the same day! The best part was the revelation that they were pumping ionized air into the room - but whether we could tell or not, was part of the 'experiential aura'. Andy Warhol said art is anything you can get away with, but the feeling of the Emperor's New Clothes seemed to scream off every wall. Less daft by a long chalk, yet still slightly pointless to me, was Walter De Maria's Silver Meters, a stainless steel square with silver dots on it. There's a gold version too.
Oberon Onmura: Well I should say de Maria's my hero, but I realize much of his work is of its time. I love the New York Earth Room, a friend of mine has been caretaking it for almost 30 years. To understand WDM, you have to think about "The Lightning Field". I'm going out there one day. What De Maria is doing is taking "nature" and focusing us on it as a product of human interaction. There is no "nature" except as humans define it. It's more than 'sticks in the desert' as you define it, and he's not trying to copyright nature - it's WDM's reaction to lightning.
Two Fish, takes light sources and individual interaction to another level. He, too, is deeply interested in weight and form, not telling a story but presented to the senses directly. 'Transitions' elevates an ordinary shape into an absorbing notion of intersection and change. Plus the colours are beautiful. Perhaps the fluorescent light guy would have done the same, if he had had the technology. That's a lot of butcher's shop bulbs, though.
Oberon Onmura: I have a soft spot for compulsives - do you remember Fred Sandback's work? He's the guy that created space with long strands of yarn. Another hero.What I value about all of that work is that it's about something. It's not about "communication" - it's not about "human emotion": those can be falsified easily and often are. It's about space, color, emptiness, weight - mass, volume. In other words, reality brought into sharp focus, so we can see it too. I wish they had a way to show James Turrell, or Robert Smithson.
There is a Turrell at the Hirshhorn Gallery in Washington, where Milk Run, a literally pitch black room, is part of the ColorForms exhibition. Eventually you 'rez' in real life - you become aware of the dimensions of the room and light beams in different colours - I only really saw the red and white, but there are supposed to be other shades - after being in the room for a good five minutes. As the volume control of your own senses makes its idiosyncratic ascent from confusion to some sort of meaning, you can't help but be charmed, opened by the sensation. Now that's immersive. At Oberon's install 'Plaza', currently at Imopca, he explained some more.
Then minimalism suddenly broke through, like the light of stars, an ancient illumination. At the Hirshhorn, this is Fred Sandback's '12 Part Vertical composition'. You can walk among the strings and as you do, your eyes - no, your peripheral vision - invents walls or mirrors, discrete spaces. A dialogue begins between sight and mind.
Oberon Onmura: I can tell you this. A long time ago when I worked for Dia, I had a life changing experience. I was working for the Lamonte Young project, he's a composer: his "master" was an Indian singer named Pandit Pran Nath;one of the world's greatest artists. Anyway,I was the recording engineer. We were preparing for a concert. I was up in the booth, the mics were on at the stage, and Pran Nath was tuning the tambouras. I could hear everything, I was doing odd things, not really listening closely. He kept tuning the tamboura, adjusting the "buzziness" of the strings, It was taking forever. I said to myself "Come on - it's in tune already!" but he kept tuning and then, suddenly, the damn thing WAS IN TUNE! The air in the room changed. I had to sit down. Everything lined up somehow. That's magical. I even saw changes in the needles on the recorders and when he sang, being "in tune" was the whole thing, pretty much. The thing about minimalist art is that everything has to be perfect. It changed the way I looked at everything, and SL has done it again. Heh.