I was in New York City last weekend and stumbled upon a MOMA special exhibit called Inventing Abstraction. I don’t know anything about abstract art but thought I’d venture in. I still don’t know much, but I surprised myself by really enjoying the exhibit and finding a few new friends.
Two artists in particular – Sonia Delaunay and Duncan Grant – caught my attention. They both experimented with extended, continuous paintings. In Delaunay’s case, she illustrated a poem by Blaise Cendrars called Prose of the Trans-Siberian and of Little Jehanne of France. The MOMA exhibit displayed her lovely work in a long, glass case, unfolded, so that you could see the way her abstract images wove together with the text of the Cendrars poem. In Grant’s case, he experimented with a long, continuous scroll of paper on which he painted gouache, watercolor, and cut papers. The MOMA exhibit included one such painting of his, Abstract Kinetic Collage Painting with Sound (1914). His idea was to view the painting through a rectangular aperture, 11″ high and 24″ wide. The painting was to be mounted on twin spools, one on each side of the aperture, and then slowly passed across the aperture. Since the viewer’s experience of the painting would be impacted by the rate at which it moved, Duncan determined that the painting should be paced by following a slow movement of one of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos.
I couldn’t help but connect this lovely idea to Bill Viola, the video artist. In his essay Will There Be Condominiums in Data Space (one of the required readings in the amazing New Media Faculty Seminars), Viola talks about breaking free from thinking of the video/computer screen as a monitor and, instead, think of it as a window. He encourages us to think of our computers as three-dimensional space, with the viewer wandering through scenes and events evolving in time.