Two weeks ago I ventured into D.C. when I heard of an art exhibit titled Damage Control: Art and Destruction Since the 1950’s located at the Hirshhorn Museum, I knew that I had to visit. The Damage Control exhibit as a whole was pretty amazing to look at. Seeing things that would normally be considered dangerous and destructive put on display and being tagged as “beautiful” artwork was bit jarring at first.
Mona Hatuoum’ work, Still Life with Hand Grenades (2006-07), Mixed Media
Hatuoum’s Hand Grenades consisted of multiple colorful grenades situated on top of a steel table. The size of the grenades are pretty much uniform with them being slightly larger than my fist. The table itself, while not much to look at, reminds me very much of an autopsy table; which is about 6’x2’. This image resonates with the fact that multiple grenades— weapons of destruction and death— are sitting on top of it. The grenade material was of a crystal like substance. The shininess and colorfulness of the grenades gives them a toy like appearance; an object that any parent would let their child play with. This playful quality of the grenades contrast with the destructive prowess that they posses. This application of mixing beauty with deadly potential is rather jarring, and reminds me of the myth of the “femme fatal.”
Hand Grenades is actually one of the first pieces of work you see when you first walk into the exhibit. It really set the tone for what the rest of the artwork in the exhibit would be like. Overall, I really liked the piece. It is relatively simple piece consisting of roughly thirty-five grenades. Some of the shapes vary which made me want to look at every grenade individually just to note the small differences between them. Some were smooth, some had the pattern of a traditional hand grenade, and some were rather spikey. The bright transparent colors really caught me attention; the colors were cheerful and happy, which made me want to buy one to put on my shelf to brighten my day. When I initially realized my train of thought, I was a bit disturbed by it. Grenades are internally dangerous and are deadly weapons, therefore my wanting of the object made me feel a bit guilty. I think that this feeling might have been what Hatuoum was aiming for when she made the piece. Things that cause destruction and death can be beautiful, but most of all, artwork such as this is meant to invoke thought. I would image that my mixed feelings of awe and guilt are very similar what most American’s were feeling when the atom bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during WWII. The destruction is devastating and awe inspiring, but the fact that hundreds of thousands of lives were lost and destroyed that day really makes you stop and reconsidered the consequences of your actions. Hatuoum’s Hand Grenades strives, and my opinion accurately, invokes these feelings of self reflection and awe.
Christian Marclay, Guitar Drag (2000), Install
This video shows a man in a truck driving off road over a leave and brush covered ground. Tied to the back of the truck is a guitar as it drags along the ground as he drives. You can her the sounds of the plucking of the guitar strings as it runs along the ground. The sound isn’t particularly pleasing to the ear. Though, I must admit that I never thought of dragging a guitar along the ground to play it. It was very creative, and yet, I’m nor really sure what this piece is suppose to represent. If I had to guess, then I would have to say that this piece represents the beauty that can come from unexpected means,; a sentiment that the artwork in the Damage Control exhibit do wonderfully.
Pipilotti Rist, Swiss, Ever is Over All (1997), Install
The artwork is an install that has two part. On one side (the wall directly in front of the viewer) shows Rist walking down a city street filled with parked cars holding a baton shaped like a giant flower. After walking for some time she begins to smash in windows and mirror of the parked cars she is walking next to. At some point, a police officer (woman) comes by and greets her before going about her. She does all of this with a smile. On the other side, the video shows a field of vibrant red flowers. There is whimsical music playing in the background. There is a jarring sense about this piece. The peaceful music differs from the vandalism that she is performing. And because this scene is so shocking, I can’t help but totally ignore the flower video playing right next to it. To me based my own reaction, this artwork shows just how much people often focus on the ugly in the world, rather than the beauty.
Barbara Kruger, Belief and Doubt (2012), Mixed Media
In my opinion, this has to be one of the most interesting works in the entire museum. It takes up an entire floor. The color scheme is red, black and white. This gives to artwork a “modern” feel to it. The words “Belief + Doubt” are on every surface of the room; from the floors to the walls. There is even a gift shop that promotes the artist. This was the easiest work to find in the museum because the name was literally everywhere. The words are so large that you can’t help but notice them. There are many little quotes that invokes thought in the viewer, such as “Belife+Doubt=Sanity.” This also shows how most artist make their money; they don’t just make money by relying on selling artwork alone, they also sell other merchandise that appeal to the consumer. The usage of the questions gets the viewer to think about themselves and the world in which they live in.