Last week I went to the Whitney Museum to see the Real/Surreal exhibition before it closed. The show has several dozen pieces from the Whitney’s permanent collection and brings together the diversity within 20th century artists’ rendering of what reality is. Most of the works in the show fall in the blurry line between the real and the surreal. Realistically rendered pieces seemed normal at first glance, but upon further inspection something seemed off about them. After the double take, you begin to sense that something is skewed or that the feeling or the mood is off. This is the kind of imagery that I love to work on. Although in photography, the surreal aspect can become heavy-handed or spoon fed. The tension between creating a believable scene and its surrealistic context makes for compelling works of art. I had never seen any of the pieces in the exhibition before and it gave me a new perspective of some of the artists. The lithographs of Grant Wood were particularly intriguing because I took a lithography course last semester. The technical perfection and precision in his prints are amazing to see first hand. Learning how difficult a process can be to control is a good way for an artist to understand and appreciate other artists’ work.
The Whitney also was showing a film installation by Roy Lichtenstein called Three Landscapes. The installation included three panels, each divided by a thick black line, which pays homage to Lichtenstein’s other artwork. The top half of each panel showed a still image: a set of blue Ben-Day dots, clouds, and a single bird mid-flight. The bottom halves contained a one minute loop of two bodies of water and an aquarium. The dividing lines tilt up and down diagonally, which creates a hypnotizing effect on the viewer. I stayed in the room for minutes, waiting to catch the moment when the loops reset. Most people only watched Lichtenstein’s piece for a few moments; they all left after they realized there was no narrative or real substance in the videos. The blurb on the wall outside gave the context of Lichtenstein’s short-lived interest in video, noting that this installation was Lichtenstein’s first and only film piece. I can understand why.