Almost Mute: Doris Salcedo at the MCA

Currently on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art is the first retrospective of artist, Doris Salcedo. While the show is impressive in scope and quantity, the quantity is the very reason why the show deflates itself. The work is quiet, surpassing poetry, to the point of mute.

The consideration of the MCA space is thorough; the lights are dimmed to Salcedo’s specifications, the doorways throughout the exhibit were narrowed, and sightlines among the works were considered from different angles of approach. It was only during the curator’s walk through that some of these careful and important decisions were revealed. When I first went to the show, I felt that the work was too big for the space.

The most successful works were the pieces I discovered on my own, the ones that did not confront me. In the Untitled works gallery with cabinets and other furniture filled with concrete, in the corner away from the larger pieces, there is one side table (number 16 in the exhibition catalogue). Actually, it is two side tables, merged together with a comparably thin slab of concrete. It functions and acts the same way that the large cabinets do, without the imposing weight. There was something special about this piece, away from its brother and sister works. My back was turned away from the rest of the gallery and I was able to experience it in its isolation. Interestingly enough, this piece is the only work in the gallery that from the collection of the artist. Other times that struck me were the moments of discovery in the work – finding a button or a bone or a zipper, imbedded in the wooden furniture sculptures.

With such succinct and deliberate curation, making the viewer feel the weight of Salcedo’s scultpures and installation, the pamphlets, for this viewer, seemed unnecessary. The writing brings up interesting questions about mediation – do we the audience need to read about it to know how to feel? Is the curation too authoritative for a subjective experience?

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