Exhibit of the week: Silence and Time

The Dallas Museum of Art's new show of paintings, sculptures, and videos takes a provocative look at mortality and the passing of time.

Dallas Museum of Art

Through Aug. 28

Did you “seize, and savor, the day” today? asked Scott Cantrell in The Dallas Morning News. The latest group show at the Dallas Museum of Art is a gentle reminder to do so, a “quiet and thoughtfully provocative gathering of art about temporality,” which means it’s also about mortality and the fleeting moment. Among the show’s centerpieces is James Lee Byars’s imposing Figure of Death (1986), a thin, 23-foot-tall stack of basalt cubes. “Isolated pillars, of course, have been memorial symbols since time immemorial.” But visible bubbles in the stone remind us here that each block was also “once a living thing, magma boiled out of the Earth’s innards.” More immediate, perhaps, is a sequence of 24 photographs by Hitoshi Nomura depicting blocks of dry ice “moved farther and farther down a mat, gradually dematerializing in steam.” Overall, the exhibition is a triumph: “the very opposite of a museum blockbuster,” but compelling in its own understated way.

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Rarely does the “tick-tock of the finite clock” feel as comforting as it does here, said Gaile Robinson in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Thoughts about the transience of life, when beautifully packaged, can have that effect. Félix González-Torres’s Untitled (Perfect Lovers), for instance, is simple yet “profoundly moving.” In it, two identical wall clocks are hung side by side. “The time they register is compatible now, but eventually they will become out of sync, and inevitably one will break before the other.” So sad. Other works tackle the role natural forces play in determining fate. Morris Louis and Larry Poons “pour their paint directly onto the canvas and let gravity decide the outcome.” Sterling Ruby, too, leaves finishing touches up to chance, applying “misty layers of spray paint, with the final sputters and gasps of compressed air providing the surface interest.”

The paintings are good, said Betsy Lewis in Glasstire.com. The sculptures are often absolutely “dazzling.” But the video pieces? What a bore. One of them features “a clock keeping real time on a 24-hour loop with numbers made of matchsticks,” a pointless piece that “I could not watch for more than two seconds before leaving.” And don’t get me started on Paul Pfeiffer’s mind-numbing footage of a wasp building its nest over a period of three months, which takes—you guessed it—a full three months to view in its entirety. There’s a limit to people’s patience. Last time I checked, museum visiting hours don’t last forever, either.

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