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‘A Luminous Destruction’

Art loving groups will find themselves enamored and challenged to think beyond the norm with a new installation and exhibit at Frist Art Museum by Liliana Porter.

Liliana Porter: Man with Axe and Other Stories is a large-scale installation that will be shown with additional works by the Argentina-born artist. Porter (b. 1941) is renowned for arranging discarded everyday objects to create theatrical vignettes that are philosophically provocative and slyly humorous. The exhibition will be on view in the Gordon Contemporary Artists Project Gallery from February 5 through May 2, 2021.

The centerpiece of the exhibition, Man with Axe and Other Stories (2017), on loan from the Pérez Art Museum in Miami, offers a bird's-eye view of a civilization being reduced to rubble. The sprawling work features a small plastic figure of an axe-wielding man who appears to have demolished an array of items, from dollhouse furniture to vases, clocks, and a full-size piano.

"The tableau illustrates that, like time itself, a tiny thing—a virus, a dangerous ideology, or a lone person—can bring down a kingdom or a world," said Mark Scala, Frist Art Museum chief curator. "Rich with melancholy and humor and despair and hope, the installation shows the man with the axe as a sociopathic embodiment of time itself, forever frozen in a single moment, forever unfolding in a pattern of violence and renewal."

The installation should read as scary and apocalyptic, but Porter does not wish to cause undue anxiety or limit the viewer to a pessimistic opinion of the human dilemma. Instead, she embraces multiple responses.

"To one person it can seem fun, to another tragic, to another pretty, another a horror. And I think they're all true," said Porter. Always fascinated with paradox, Porter says about Man with Axe that "even though it is destruction, it's not sinister ... It's like a luminous destruction, we could say. I like that contradiction."


Liliana Porter. To Do It: Red Sand III, 2020. Sand and figurine on wooden base, 36 x 40 x 40 in. (approx.).
Courtesy of the artist. © Liliana Porter. Photo: Rhinebeck Studio

This enigmatic perspective continues throughout the exhibition, where other sculptures and a video similarly mix oppositional metaphors. In To Do It: Red Sand III (2020), a female figurine appears to be tirelessly sweeping an enormous amount of red sand arranged in a labyrinthine spiral. She is a small human with a big task, but the purpose and result of her work is ambiguous.

The digital video Matinee (2009) is a sequence of brief scenarios in which unexpected meanings arise from the juxtaposition or alteration of ordinary objects that trigger cultural memories or personal nostalgia. However banal the individual curios, toys, and accompanying music may seem, new poetic and humorous associations arise when they are combined.

"Matinee affirms that artists and non-artists alike can find meaning, joy and inspiration in things that may seem unremarkable by themselves, but when creatively combined can form a new lens for viewing the world," Scala explained. "In Porter's work, history is perpetually on the move and in a state of ruination, labor is essential but always being undone, and the associations between objects and language are endlessly and joyfully elastic."

To learn more about the exhibit, visit Frist Art Museum.

Courtesy of Groups Today.

Main photo courtesy of Liliana Porter. Man with Axe and Other Stories (detail), 2017. Figurines, objects, and wooden base, dimensions variable. Collection Pérez Art Museum Miami, museum purchase with funds provided by Jorge M. Pérez, 2017.013. © Liliana Porter. Photo: Rhinebeck Studio


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