Art Review: HERE: Ann Hamilton, Jenny Holzer, Maya Lin
The Wexner Center for the Arts celebrates its 30th anniversary with an exhibition that rightly aspires to the bold promise and grand vision of the building that originally opened in 1989. In HERE: Ann Hamilton, Jenny Holzer, Maya Lin, the Wexner Center presents visitors with the work of three eminent, Ohio-born artists; artists whose careers have spanned a similar timeline and who have proven to be as bold and visionary as the structure their work occupies. HERE invites us to reflect on the particular time and place we inhabit. It inserts a push pin into our collective map and suggests the decidedly non-rhetorical questions, “How did we get here?” and “Where do we go from here?” It’s an exhibition that rewards reflection, but also demands action.
Description is more valuable than metaphor.-Jenny Holzer, from Truisms (1977-79)
It’s true, at least in the case of HERE. For all the conceptual flourishes and diverse materiality on view, the works of Hamilton, Holzer and Lin present – if not an overt narrative flow – then at least a form of high-level exposition.
In Pin River-Ohio Aquifers and How Does A River Overflow Its Banks?, Lin illustrates the complex fragilities of our relationship to our environment. She brings the here and now of Ohio’s water systems directly into the gallery space through works that merge cartography, geography, activism and contemporary art. Further, and just as importantly, they’re stunning.
Pin River-Ohio Aquifers is a dizzying installation composed of over 80,000 stainless steel pins representing the underground systems we rely on for potable water. And while the mapping and installation are precise, the optical effect of these tightly packed pins is such that the work never comes into perfect focus. It hovers and shimmers depending on distance, light and point of view. Similarly, How Does A River Overflow Its Banks? creates an ever-changing pattern of light and color across its vast, meandering route. The carpet of clear glass beads reflect and refract the gallery environs as viewers navigate and explore its path.
Language, exposition and description are front and center in Jenny Holzer’s work. For HERE, the artist has redeployed her groundbreaking Truisms and Inflammatory Essays to create a compelling, thought-provoking environment. The edge-to-edge pattern of display, the volume of words and their seeming inviolability forces viewers to question assumptions and confront the dynamics and discrepancies of power. Originally conceived as posters to be hung guerrilla style in public places, the text of Truisms and Inflammatory Essays is made monumental in this floor to ceiling presentation. The relentless repetition creates a of truth of its own, illustrating the lesson of “staying on message” that is clearly not lost on today’s politicians and pundits.
A different kind of truth, one that eschews maxims and slogans for cold, hard realities is shared by Holtzer in the form of five marble benches. Set amid Truisms, these benches are engraved with excerpts from the works of Polish poet Anna Świrszczyńska and detail the atrocities Świrszczyńska witnessed in Nazi occupied Poland. Their dark, polished surfaces serve as stark reminders that words are not mere abstractions. They have real and often disastrous consequences.
Hamilton’s contribution to HERE focuses on the objects we make and the meaning we assign them. For Hamilton, our “here” is best reflected and understood in our need to create. Her sprawling installation when an object reaches for your hand presents scans of a wide variety of material objects. Some are from the personal collections of friends, while others are culled from rarely seen collections at Ohio State. Hamilton invites viewers to actively participate in the exhibition by taking these image sheets with them. These can either be mailed to others or kept for oneself. With this participatory element Hamilton not only establishes a reciprocal relationship with the audience, she also completes a conceptual circle by taking a three-dimensional object, rendering it in two-dimensions, and then inviting the viewer, through the act of taking, to turn it back to a three-dimensional object to be kept and carried.
The scans themselves are exquisite. They are by turns intimate, provocative, whimsical, heart-breaking and joyous. They reflect our world, but also suggest its ephemeral nature. These images, in their gauzy, spectral way, make it impossible to establish the status of the object depicted. Is it coming into view, or receding from it? Will I be able to hold this thing or is it going to disappear? Is it here or gone?
And that’s the question that ties this exhibition together. Can we know “here”? Can we define it? Lin can map it. Holzer can articulate it. Hamilton can invite us to act in it. But will “here” hold still long enough for us to understand it? Is “here” a thing we carry with us, from time to time and place to place, or is “here” the place we stand while time and events rush past?
An answer (if there is one) is suggested in the Wexner Center’s efforts to push HERE beyond the confines of the gallery space itself. Holtzer’s works appear on kiosks in the Short North. They were also on temporary display (to no small amount of confusion and consternation) on the scrolling news ticker at Broad and High. Additional images from Hamilton’s when an object reaches for your hand are on view at The Ohio State University’s Thompson Library as well as on large-scale outdoor banners at Mershon Auditorium and 82 N. High St. Lin’s Groundswell remains on permanent display as an installation outside the Wexner Center. Put another way, if you want to see HERE, well, you’ll need to go there, too.
Metaphysical questions aside, we can be grateful for 30 years of the Wexner Center for the Arts and the exhibition that celebrates those years. HERE: Ann Hamilton, Jenny Holzer, Maya Lin provides a unique perspective on where we we are now, and by extension, where we might go.
HERE: Ann Hamilton, Jenny Holzer, Maya Lin is on view at the Wexner Center for the Arts, 1871 N. High St., through December 29, 2019. For more information visit wexarts.org.
All photos by Jeff Regensburger