(a bit rough – for a critique due tomorrow – criticism welcomed before submission for class)
Stepping into Loretta Howard Gallery is to open a door of possibilities. “John Ashbery Collects: poet among things” is a multi-media experience of the environment occupied by John Ashbery. Roam rooms carefully curated by Ashbery, a collector of things for over eight decades. It is an immersive experience, a unique collection of furnishings, art, tapestries, pottery, and other objects. Couple objects with selections of Ashbery’s poetry, and experience a memory.
“The room I entered was a dream of a room.
Surely all those feet on the sofa were mine.”
Two lines from poem, “This Room,” are an apt opening to this exhibition. Co-curator and poet, Adam Fitzgerald, writes that this exhibit hopes to “frame some of the basic elements of Ashbery’s sensibility.”
Ashbery’s sensibility, as art critic, poet, and collector comes alive in this recreation of objects from the Victorian home in Hudson, NY. Matthew Thurber’s installation drawings of walls, a staircase, even a piano, offer structure, while furniture and art pieces set the tone. A stroll into these rooms, however, is not to experience art as much as it is to experience John Ashbery.
An anteroom features a fragment of Ashbery’s famous poem “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror”. Above it hangs Ashbery’s collage piece The Mail In Norway (2009). The poem is painterly, while the collage builds a complex narrative with odd photos and a primary colored backdrop. John Ashbery believes words can create line as much as a picture can tell a story.
A life-size drawing of a black, grand piano becomes real with an array of sheet music and books propped against its makeshift body. A stanza from “The Skaters,” displayed upon a brass music stand, creates a touch of Cage-like music for the room with its clanging words.
Observing a mantel laden with bric-a-brac, one wonders what should be discovered in these semi-dream rooms? Perhaps, just the reward of gaining insight of a man who truly believes in art, as best explained by Jed Perl’s, A Magically Alive Aesthetic: Reported Sightings:
Ashbery always insists that we respond to art in many different ways, that art is pictura and poesis and philosophy as well, that we can discover the literary within the pictorial, the pictorial within the literary, and discover all of this to all sorts of varying degrees, in one part of a work of art, in a particular work of art at a particular time. ~ “Conjunctions 49: A Writer’s Aviary”(1989)
“John Ashbery Collects: poet among things” reminds us that art is to be experienced in a multitude of ways. An exhibition that is quirky as it is cerebral, which is fitting considering one has just experienced a bit of John Ashbery’s world. On view until November 2, 2013.