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Do We Create Our Reality or Do We Only Respond or React?

For each of us, reality is personal and yet, simultaneously universal. There is the reality we share, such as the understanding that the heavens (cosmos) is above. Ask people where the cosmos or Heavens are and they will point or look up. That's a shared reality. The actuality is that the cosmos surrounds our planet, so wherever we are on earth at any given moment the sky appears to be above, but it is also below on the other side of the planet and surrounding us.        

Even amongst those who apparently seem to agree by belonging to the same religions, cultures and/or professions there are differences. The answers we have fascinate us, but it is the willingness to ask questions, to risk the quest that is compelling. Great answers inspire more questions - a further quest.        

Focusing on the heavens and seeking to bring form and even order to our reality is the topic of two excellent gallery shows currently in Chelsea, NYC. One is a solo show and the other is a museum quality exhibit.       

The Sara Tecchia Roma gallery has extended Japanese American artist Makoto Fujimura's exhibit entitled, Golden Fire through January 23, 2007. Fujimura explores Biblical understandings from the perspective of an abstract expressionist by using medieval Japanese materials and methods.


Mercy Seat

Photo courtesy Sara Tecchia Roma Gallery, NY


Using earthly gold (a heavy metal) as a symbol for purity, permanence and sovereignty, Fujimura poses a visual challenge: how do we reach the heavens?        

In the gallery's smaller room a video runs of an interview taped during a show at All Hallows Cathedral during the City of London Festival.  In it Fujimura discusses his art and an installation of Mercy Seat, which is based on measurements given in Exodus . Fujimura says that there is significance in basing the original Mercy Seat on the cubit because that measurement is human and personal as it represents the distance of a person's fingers to the elbow.        

Fujimura has constructed three rectangular shaped boxes, painted in his unique style (see accompanying photo of one side of a work) and assembled together as the seat. In the center of this is placed a simple boat shaped work that is illuminated with a soft vision of changing colors from a video  within that visually echos our life journey.        

It is both personal and universal.

My general experience with gallery openings is that about half of the people attending come to be seen and meet other people, and crowded shows often resemble singles bars, except that the wine and munchies are free. This was borne out by several openings I attended that evening, including one where a man holding a very full glass of wine strolled out of an elevator saying, “There's good wine on the fifth floor!”        

The first thing that struck me at the packed opening reception at the James Cohan Gallery for Cosmologies was that the attendees were actually looking intently at the art and discussing it! I watched as people walked through the rooms of works animatedly pointing and discussing, and then came around again.

Cosmologies explores our relationships and differing views of the cosmos, both the cosmos above and the personal within us. Curated by James and Jane Cohan and their gallery colleagues, the show spans centuries, religions, philosophies and cultures. Quite an undertaking! It is a museum quality exhibition, which could is worthy of traveling to other venues.

        Cosmologies challenges individual reality by including and thus juxtaposing a cacophony of works on the theme. The sum of this show is greater than the individual parts.         Take two brief but different journeys through the galleries rooms with me. Understand that these works are showing together, so that the overall effect is of a symphony, with various melodies interweaving.        

Our first “walk” begins in the main room where Anslem Kiefer's Buch (The Secret Life of Plants) dominates by size and weight.

Cosmologies [Installation View].
NE Corner, Main Gallery. James Cohan Gallery , New York .
Photo: Jason Mandella

Note: Tomaselli's Portrait of Marjorie is the rectangular black work far right just to the left of Burkina Faso 's BWA Nwantantay Mask, 76" H sculpture .

Buch (The Secret Life of Plants) , 2002
mixed media on lead
Page Dimensions:
77 x 57 x 1 inches
Diameter of open book: 113 inches
photos courtesy James Cohan Gallery, New York

This work is a book/sculpture of lead with solid pages, open like a wheel 77 x 57 x 1 inches. It is in a direct line to a small 16 x 20 inch work by Fred Tomaselli, Portrait of Marjorie. They are united by the darkness of their color with small pale writings, notations and images on each.         According to the Cosmologies Checklist, “Kiefer's book depicts the night sky with astronomic numbers used by scientists to identify the birth and death of a star. From page to page the stars morph into poppies, the flower of forgetfulness.”         It is a storytelling mega chart of the heavens that one has to physically move into (imaging walking into the pages of a giant open book) to see.        

Fred Tomaselli charts Marjorie's life, her passions and habits, such as “nicotine” giving them reference points as if they are stars in her own private galaxy. The personal is reflected in the cosmos.        

Further along, also in black and white is Ad Reinhardt's A Portend of the Artist as a Yhung Mandela, a satiric Mandela of the modern art world, including the cult hero status many artists had and have, showing “Artist as Art-Director-Holy-Monkey-Wrench” and “Artist as Doodle-Kaboodle Scumble-Bumpkin.” Here the exterior opinion becomes one's interior reality charted on a Mandela, a personal meditation for the soul. If one moves through this show only viewing the black and white type works there is a splendid and deeply meaningful show within a show.        

But our souls also know color, riotous color, so let's take a different “walk”. This one begins at the entry vestibule with Kimsooja's dynamic Mandela: Zone of Zero , 2004 pulsating with light and jukebox sound mixing Tibetan, Gregorian and Islamic Chants. Works interweaving colors, using colors to map the rainbow of human spiritual experience continue with a decal over the entry by assume astro vivid focus, Abravana Cosmocock, 2007 to two works by Alfred Jensen, including #7. Wherein the Numerals 7 & 11 Occur, 1976, and across the wall to Matthew Ritchie's Wave of Translation , 2006 to Ingrid Calame's #231 Drawing (Tracings up the L.A. River Placed in the Clark Telescope Dome, Lowell observatory, Flagstaff, AZ), 2006. Each of these works relies strongly on colors to represent (rather than merely help illustrate) ideas, symbols and perhaps beliefs.        

There are many other “walks” and ways to experience the stimulating juxtapositions of the numerous excellent works in this show. It deserves a full catalogue or learned article in an art magazine, which I hope also details the similarities and differences of the antique religious and scientifically based works, such as the original book by Roger Fludd, the Mongolian, Tibetan, Christian and Indian works, etc.        

Artists explore reality, then allow us to see through their eyes, inspiring us to see the our own worlds in new ways. That is the job description I personally adhere to and the artists I admire and it seems to me all the recognized greatest artists follow that path. Religious or spiritual artists seem to fall well into this job description and have created some of the world's most incredible art, even though their theologies and cultures may differ.        

This blog owes many thanks to Benjamin Tischer, director at Sara Tecchia Roma for providing information and allowing the use of the Mercy Seat image. I never could have managed my “walks” through Cosmologies without the kindness of Jane Cohan who allowed me to use one special Cosmologies Checklist as I wended my way through the show. Christopher Rawson, Archivist, emailed the perfect photos, one being the Gallery View, when unbeknownst to him I had described that very scene! Yonni Walker, Press Assistant, continues to be most helpful and again came to my aid, this time by emailing me both a pdf of the Checklist and a press release, which is now also available on the James Cohan Gallery web site. I strongly urge you to visit these shows and also their gallery web sites (the links here should work) where you will find more information and images.

January 17, 2007


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