People who don't read the accompanying notes observe the art, trusting their perceptions and intuition (and perhaps background knowledge) to guide them to an understanding and enjoyment of the work, in dialogue between the artist and their imagination. People who read the notes like to have a bit of context, historical or formal, to understand what the artist was trying to do in order to appreciate it more fully.
The problem with not reading the notes is that you might miss out on some important contextual details -- the where, when, how, and why a piece was made. The problem with reading the notes is that sometimes they can prevent you from drawing your own conclusions. You are robbed of an "Aha!" moment and you may fixate so much on the words that you forget to look at the art. (Of course, sometimes there are no notes, which proves infinitely frustrating to note readers).
Regardless of which type of person you are "Finally, We Are All Young Again
," the new installation at the MIA's MAEP galleries (along with Scott Nedrelow's "Movie"), requires you to do both. The text that gives context to what you are seeing is actually a four-page essay by Tony Sunder, written in small print which is in itself rather abstract and full of literary allusion. The best thing to do, actually, is to go to the exhibit, take in the art, bring the essay home with you to read, and return later to see the art again (Oh, come on. It's free and there's air conditioning).
The installation itself is rather daunting. Upon first glance you may think, "What the...?" On the back wall, there is a large conglomeration of words that are jumbled together, sometimes forming sayings or quotes in different font styles. Certain phrases stick out: "Congratu-late your pops for me and run wild, eh," and "So I spent 30 bucks on cheese today and by the power vested in me I ate my way through," and other such things that don't make much sense and all run into each other making a kind of neo-imagist poem.
On the left wall are color photographs of houses, mounted on red paper and wrapped in plastic. The artists provide numerous "title pages" for this series, which include phrases such as "erotic houses" and "The sweetest taboo" with various riffs and variations. You may wonder, what constitutes an erotic house? The non-note readers may find it to be abundantly clear by looking at the photographs, but for the others you'll find some insight in Tony Sunder's essay: "Erotic has to do with a becoming," he writes, "a transgender (with houses though there is rarely a gender--perhaps becoming gendered) or continued construction, like a loss of self."
The right wall has houses of another sort, as well as lists that have addresses and checkmarks for whether the houses are haunted or not. The photographs and lists are ripped in patterns, and mounted on blue paper. Sunder's essay begins with a description of searching for these houses with the two artists who, rather than using EKGs or Spectrographs or EMF readings, just go by looking at the houses to determine whether they are haunted.
The center of the gallery contains high-table structures where dozens of slides of people dancing--along with images of flowers and other things--are mounted vertically with light bulbs shining underneath to illuminate them. Peering into the space where the overlapping slides glow, you see all kinds of different dance, from ballet, to jazzercise (complete with leg-warmers and neon leggings), to ballroom, to kids just having fun.
The center of the gallery also contains empty bookshelves with books painted on the sides, their titles written by hand. According to the MIA's website, these are alternative titles to the show, and include "A Hairline Balance," "I had the best time earlier this year," and "Birds on the Window."
There's definitely a theme of naming things throughout this installation; of finding words to capture the essence of an idea, an image, or an experience. There's a sense of grasping for a way to describe something that has existed in the subconscious. What happens when you try to make something abstract literal? The original abstraction has a risk for becoming trite, perhaps because you can never really translate imagination into words. Words are logic, and not everything is logical. The best things aren't, anyway.