On recent afternoon in November, I sat down with Matthew Abess, assistant curator at The Wolfsonian museum, hoping to better understand their new exhibit, Describing Labor.
Like the opening of a Russian doll set, the show was revealed to me slowly and successively, with meaning resting inside of meaning. Through the help of an unfolding dialogue, the artist, Esther Shalev-Gerz, invites us to explore the bond between an experience and the telling one gives to that experience.
At first, the idea that an artist would do rigorous research on the depiction of the working figure from the late nineteenth century to the Great Depression and through both World Wars (and why that portrayal later receded from our collective consciousness) seemed substantive enough for an art exhibit.In fact, the museum’s art collection on the subject is so extensive– from an Arthur Waagen bronze sculpture in 1889 to a Harry Sternberg silkscreen from the 1930’s- I felt content to bask in the beauty of the art and stop there. However, through new works of video, audio and photography, Describing Labor pushes us to explore the transitional quality of time and our capacity to see and describe.
On that afternoon, like Alice in Wonderland, I felt “curiouser and curiouser!” as I listened to Abess describe the contours of the show. In Describing Labor, the people, places and things “appear partial, pliable and provisional.” Shalev-Gerz brings us an experience that eludes articulation— a visual/audio presentation inside a fundamental question that asks what are we really feeling when confronted with an image?
Describing Labor is on view from December 3, 2012 to April 7, 2013 at The Wolfsonian- 1001 Washington Avenue, Miami Beach.