Disorienting Delirious Art at Met Breuer

Detail of Jim Nutt’s 1967 Miss E. Knows, representing twisted expressions of Sixties angst

Do you believe that delirious times call for delirious art? This was the impetus for the Met Breuer to create “Delirious: Art at the Limits of Reason, 1950-1980,” to take viewers on an experience of vertigo, excess, nonsense, and twisted sensibilities through January 14.

About a third of the show is drawn from the Met’s own collections, but there are plenty of surprises around each corner – art from lesser-known artists who were channeling their times as well as little-known pieces from well-known artists.

The first rooms of the show explore vertigo by catapulting you back in time to the 1960s, when psychedelia and altered, fractured states drove artists to experiment and translate the feelings of social change and upheaval.

Peering into Robert Smithson’s 1965 Three Mirror Vortex

Works include the stunning, ultra-controlled, and visually disorienting op-art canvases of Edna Andrade as well as a fractured inside-out sculpture by Robert Smithson. You can even put your head inside of it and experience worlds within worlds.

In case you miss the point of all this early Sixties experimentation, the curators have the Met’s copy of Timothy Leary’s psychedelic tome on display, along with drawings done by his colleagues under trance-like conditions.

From there, the curators accelerate the feeling of delirium and disorientation by grouping works according to excess (read obsessive), nonsense (gibberish), and twisted.

Detail of Alfred Jensen’s obsessive 1978 work

You’ll see highly obsessive, ordered works, such as a monumental Alfred Jensen systems painting with rows of numbers caked in oil impasto and an all-white 3-D see-through grid installation by Sol Lewitt. All very precise but irrational, regardless whether the work is messy or clean.

Turn the corner and find that obsessive Kusama is at it again with her self-titled “compulsion furniture,” plastering an ordinary ladder with high-heeled shoes and who-knows-what. It feels as though her work is the opposite of the previous group, but it’s just as over-the-top.

Punched-paper details in Howardina Pindell’s 1977 collage

In a nice surprise, the Met pairs Kusama with obsessive, joyous, and glittering works by former curator Howardena Pindell, who channeled her experience of a 1970s African odyssey into an abstract riot of punched-out paper holes, colors, and stuff. Bravo, Howardena! (Note: Her work is also featured on the walls of the Whitney right now in “An Incomplete History of Protest.”)

The nonsense portion of the galleries feature word-play and an unusual early Oldenburg totem inspired by his old neighborhood – “Letter Tenement” is a mish-mash sturdily assembled from oil and rags. An abstract Stan VanDerBeek video pulses nearby.

Impermanence and found-object inspirations are represented by letterset, photocopy art, and large-scale works made from torn Parisian posters by Jacque Mahé de la Villegié from the Tate collection. Layers upon layers of jumbled, dazzling fragments that you can get lost in.

For a walk on the wild side, visit this stimulating show. Take a look at some of our favorite works on our Flickr feed, and listen in as the curator presents highlights of the show:

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