he is missing a cheek. (jean (hans) arp takes the show)

newly opened at the Cincinnati Art Museum, Surrealism and Beyond In the Israel Museum, Jerusalem (February 15 through May 17, 2009) continues the thoughtful, sweeping exhibition designs that I've come to appreciate at the museum since Aaron Betsky has been around. 

White fabric partitions that evoke the kind of dreaminess of theater scrims meander through one of the two gallery spaces committed to the exhibition. Works by Marcel Duchamp, all basically "readymades" are suspended and spotlit in front of the various screens making a bold, sparse tableau that runs through the more densely hung walls of the spaces. 

Even more breathtaking is the other gallery space where an array of surrealist objects by Duchamp, Man Ray, Jean (Hans) Arp, Joseph Cornell, Meret Oppenheim, and others are sitting scattered across an elevated mirrored platform. The cool lighting and irregular curvilinear edge of the dais is pond-like, almost evoking dreams, levitation, and the innovative installation art settings of Surrealist exhibitions in the time that these pieces were produced.

BUT i should say that I've hardly begun to absorb this exhibition. What I jot here are my initial impressions from a cursory walkthrough. These are the standouts from my first visit, and i expect that as i see this more times, i will write about additional pieces.

He Is Missing a Cheek. 
Jean (Hans) Arp
Plaster, 1964

By standouts, I think that hands down the work I most gravitated towards was the collection and presentation of an unparalleled set of works by Jean (Hans) Arp. The Israel Museum will let you look at their collection online and you can savor all of these pieces on their site, here. 

I work with abstraction in my own art and most easily relate to it in other artworks. Compared to many of the other selections on display, Arp realizes the extraordinary without clashing unnecessarily with the real world outside of the artwork. Simplicity, biomorphic solutions that bear some resemblance to Giacometti's surrealist objects in plaster (before he became disassociated with the movement) are practically psychoanalytic in how they can sustain viewers' projections and assumptions about meaning, no matter how far fetched.  

Mediterranean Group
Jean (Hans) Arp
Plaster, 1941-42

In one space, a group of these stand in a procession down a broad pedestal, acting as an additional division between more two dimensional works. The resulting ghostly population seems to me to premise all kinds of sculptures since the time he made these works.

Navel and Two Thoughts
Jean (Hans) Arp
Bronze, 1932

There is a large Rene Magritte in the exhibition that is being used in most of the promotional material for this exhibition. But it is a small, somewhat crudely painting work also by Magritte entitled The Quandary of Painting, hung alongside a Morandi, whose legacy was recently rewarded with a fine exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Here are those two paintings. Together, they are a lovely, contemplative little corner of wall almost near the very back of the exhibition:

If I were to express some crisis within my experience of the selections presented, it is the alarmingly sexual work of Hans Bellmer. I'm no prude. My aesthetics are a whirlwind of psychosexual, queer theory politics, but Bellmer's work insinuates violence and malevolence to me. That is not what disturbed me so much as the viewing public seeming to find his sex-toy dolls endearing. In future visits, I want to watch more of how the audience interacts with these works to ascertain if my observations from the one night were skewed.

I'm off to an opening at Country Club and then to see a French film at the Art Academy.

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