November 8, 2010 / Art
In 1980 the young artist Jeff Koons presented his first major solo exhibition, a window …
Walking into the sixth floor gallery, through the glass sliding doors—speechless, silent breath—I was caught; my gaze wandered left, escaped right. The visual work of León Ferrari and Mira Schendel, playing together in New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), suspended me between speech and speechlessness; their particular aesthetic suspended me between the necessity of utterance and the impossibility to utter anything. And how fitting, because Ferrari and Schendels work focuses on the visual aesthetic of language.
As I made my way through the gallery, I encountered works with words as well as works without words, and only later came to discover that each of these visual artists were at one time poets. How curious that these contemporaries chose to embody, through paper, thread, ceramics, and steel, how language appeared to them. It is curious because the spoken words and visual aesthetic are often at odds with one another: one paints or photographs because words cannot capture what the artist sees or wishes to communicate. And another chooses words to capture that which needs verbal articulation, expession, or description.
Yet Ferrari and Schendel walk, float, and dance in between words and non-words, inviting viewers to wonder more about this thing called language. Can it be beautiful? Can language be dark and heavy or light and inspiring? Can it have a tangible form?
These poet-artists have allowed language to not only enter the realm of the visual, but to actually be its subject matter. Rather than push against language and rid it from the realm of the visual, Ferrari and Schendel honor the art and mystery of language through their decades of work. The disparity between word and image coalesce in Tangled Alphabets without reducing the integrity of either image or word, but curiously and delicately allowing them to inform one another.
Jen Grabarczyk-Turner is a multidisciplinary artist currently based in Corpus Christi, Texas. She holds an MFA in studio art from Claremont Graduate University and an MA in theology and culture from The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology. She is currently transitioning away from her position as art editor for The Other Journal to return to her work in the studio.