Video Self-Portrait From SFMOMA

I had an extra hour this week between sessions while attending a board of advisors meeting in San Francisco, so I walked two blocks to the Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA). I really love this structure and was here while it was under construction, then came back a couple of times after it opened. The finished product is an appropriate space for a modern art collection. It’s constructed in perfectly even layers of black, gray, white, brown and blue. The modern interpretation of geologic strata found naturally in rocks of the west. Mostly straight lines and crisp angles, with curves sprinkled in to soften the experience and direct your eyes back into the main space of the building. None of the art can be seen without taking sharp turns. It’s the opposite of the Guggenheim in NY, where the art can be viewed from almost anywhere, as if one was surveying the landscape. An oval eye is proped up on top of the structure, evoking a communications dish poised to collect radio waves from the cosmos.

There was a fascinating media art installation on the third floor entitled, Opposing Mirrors and Video Monitors on Time Delay. The artist is Dan Graham, and it was composed of two black and white television monitors, two video cameras and two large mirrors positioned on opposite sides of a wide gallery. As you approach, the camera records you, but holds it for a few seconds before feeding the video to a small TV screen. The result is a bit jarring. You move inquisitively toward the television screen expecting to see yourself but you don’t. Suddenly you appear as you were a few seconds earlier, giving you an opportunity to study yourself in motion. It takes a while to notice what’s going on, but once you get it, the brain lights up.

It’s like that old trick where you are looking into what you believe to be a mirror, but in fact it’s an opening, and someone else is facing you (your identical twin), pretending to be your reflection. That person mimics your body movements and facial expressions exactly, hoping to keep up the illusion. You then try to outsmart the reflection by making sudden, unexpected movements. In the trick it works, but in this installation, it’s always you. I snapped this photo of me inside the monitor with my iPhone.

Eventually you start performing, to see what you look like. You move in for a close up and make faces. Travel from one side of the gallery to the other and do it all over again. The mirrors keep the image moving and changes the point of view, so you can see both your front and back. Kind of a reality show on yourself, but without the personal humiliation or prize money. Everyone that passed by was instantly engaged. This is the power of modern art; the viewer participates and the common perspectives are challenged.

Unfortunately I didn’t have time to see much of anything else, but captured a few more images on the way back to the summit.

 

Photos by Steve A. Furman

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