Shotgun Reviews

Proximities 1: What Time Is It There? at the Asian Art Museum

Shotgun Reviews are an open forum where we invite the international art community to contribute timely, short-format responses (250–400 words) to an exhibition or event. If you are interested in submitting a Shotgun Review, please click this link for more information. In this Shotgun Review, Ariel Zaccheo reviews Proximities 1: What Time Is It There? at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco.

Proximities 1: What Time Is It There?, installation view, Asian Art Museum, San Francisco

Entering the gallery that houses What Time Is It There?, the first installment of the three-part exhibition Proximities, is like emerging for air after diving into a deep pool. The gallery is sandwiched between the Korean and Japanese portions of the immersive ocean of the Asian Art Museum’s permanent collection, which spans at least six thousand years. Dripping from the resonances of the bottomless expanse of complicated histories represented by the collection of art and artifacts, the exhibition offers a refreshing interstice, a moment to sit and consider contemporary perspectives amidst preceding ones.

The exhibition’s connections to water are particularly clear in Andrew Witrak’s Trouble in Paradise #2 (2013), which is constructed of thousands of cocktail umbrellas enveloping a swimming pool float. Its effect is overwhelmingly haptic and surreal; the sculpture is reminiscent of a tropical version of Méret Oppenheim’s Breakfast in Fur (1936), eliciting an instinctual desire to touch the pointed toothpick ends—which jut into space in equally distributed densities and directions, like quills—despite a tacit understanding of the impossibility and danger of the object’s physical use. The umbrellas, which alternate in sunny-hued clusters of pink, yellow, and green, are a standard garnish for tropical cocktails and standard-issue symbols for exploitative tourism and exoticism in the West, suggestive of American consumers gulping down mai tais on an indistinct, faraway island. A video screen paired with the float mimes clichéd tropical resort hotel TV channels: a golfer tees off on a perfectly coiffed green; a spa with crisp white towels offers relaxation; a tropical blue drink with a pineapple garnish sweats in the heat. Together, the work is enticing and off-putting, evoking the potential pleasures and dangers inherent in the tourism industry.

James Gobel’s You’ve Gone Away, But You’ll Come Back Some Day (2013) makes use of perfectly pieced together bits of felt and yarn to create the effect of a cut and collaged postcard. Cut-out felt letters clearly spell “Love Me…” in the bottom right, punctuating the work with the same sentiment expressed in the postcard platitude, “Wish you were here.” This plaintive tribute to a voyage not yet taken acts as a counterpoint to the damage of cultural tourism proposed by Witrak’s Trouble in Paradise #2. Gobel mentions his reflections on national flags as a starting point for imagining journeys. The result of these reflections are felt lines painted with blue, orange, and red acrylic paint that cross the center of a tan background, conjuring the geometry of a national flag. The meticulous and laborious piecing together of the felt craft material leaves clean borders between the color blocks. Highlighting the exacting detail of their work, both Gobel and Witrak speak of tourism in a language of labor. Proximities 1: What Time Is It There? discovers common ground among these oppositional forms, offering an invigorating space in the Asian Art Museum’s vast collection.

Proximities 1: What Time Is It There?, curated by independent writer, critic, and curator Glen Helfand, will be on view through July 21, 2013. Ariel Zaccheo recently completed an MA in Exhibition and Museum Studies at the San Francisco Art Institute.