My first piece of advice upon entering Conflict | Resolution is this: Have patience.
This exhibition is fantastic, but it is difficult. In a manner befitting a deep theme like struggle and strife, conclusion and compromise, this show is tough to grasp at first.
Of all the shows that comprise the main exhibition, W Dictionary by 62-year-old Mexican artist Carlos Aguirre is the biggest challenge. Both highly political and starkly minimal, Aguirre’s work resists all things topical and extra; most of his pieces in the exhibit are vinyl stickers attached directly to the gallery walls. He also employs light boxes and boards for his newspaper clipping works, with nothing overdone or decorated. W Dictionary is situated in the large gallery on the top floor, a move that beautifully highlights the empty after-feeling of Aguirre’s work.
The most striking work is Aguirre’s ongoing installation of death announcements from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, printed in the New York Times. From 2006 on, Aguirre has collected the clippings and added them to the piece, called "Names of the Dead," which has grown into a large grid of clippings tacked neatly to the wall with simple pushpins. The clippings are arranged in an ombre spread of tones related to newspaper decay, fading from a bluish white to a dull yellow. Curator Tariana Navas-Nieves explains that "Names" is made up of nearly 1,000 clippings, and will continue to grow; Aguirre has just sent some fresh announcements to add to the work.
Aguirre employs word play to fuel his political comments. One example is “Collateral Damage,” a chilling piece that blends the phrase “collateral damage” with “murder of civilians” into one long unintelligible word. This dark puzzle illustrates the often-cruel nature of euphemisms, Navas-Nieves says, adding that one of W Dictionary’s main themes is to question how words have changed meaning since 9/11, primarily through the media.
Elsewhere, viewers will find Bill Viola’s “Tempest,” a 15-minute super-slow-motion video of a group of people mown down by a tidal wave. “Tempest” possesses a similar thread of elegance and restraint, magnifying the threatening message without exploiting it. But it takes a fair amount of concentration to watch the entire film.
To balance the aggressive simplicity of much of Conflict, the pieces by Chris Weed and Sean O’Meallie offer work that pleases the eye quickly, through bright colors or visually arresting designs. Which isn’t to say they lack depth — it just takes a little less digging to get into the heart of the works.
Weed’s "Spores" litter the museum’s front lawn but also pop up inside the institution like a clever leitmotif. One spore stands guard at the entrance of the show, while a pair rest under dramatic lighting on the gallery floor. The interplay of the heavy shadows against the highlighted tines of each spore offers a brilliantly moody emotional outlet that contrasts with the stored rage and grief permeating much of the rest of the show.
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