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Arts / Museums

Voyeur Art

Thrilling Show at Fort Worth’s Modern Frames Desire

BY // 08.11.15

In Dr. No, a still-sinewy Sean Connery leaps out of a beachside thicket while ogling Ursula Andress, circa 1962. She asks, “Are you looking for shells?” Connery replies, “No, just looking.” While the repartee is loaded with double entendre, it nonetheless articulates that most thrilling of human activities — looking.

We wander the earth as voyeurs and, thus, it’s especially bracing when worlds are constellated and conjured for our delectation. And that’s precisely what “Framing Desire: Photographs and Videos” does beautifully, now on view at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. Put another way, the show is mimetic. It makes us privy to the way the world operates — both our own as well as that of others. And it must be said that sometimes the world of the “other” can seem impenetrable while other aesthetic experiences are as gratifying as a stroll along the Arno.

Emblazoned on marketing material printed for the show is a reproduction of Candida Höfer’s Biblioteca Riccardiana, Firenze 1, 2008. The image delivers an aperture, a world to be entered. It’s a balmy triumvirate of diagonal tile, confectionary ceilings and a diminishing perspective of shelves lined with books. The center of the piece is punctuated with a white portal that suggests either transcendence or a cloud-jammed spacewalk. It’s architecture-as-theatre and it could hardly be more splendid. A long library table replete with lamps splits it down the middle and, thus, we’re invited into a space where dwelling is far more than shelter; it’s sustenance.

As far as facts regarding the locale: The library in the image has been located in the Medicean palace on Via Larga in Florence since 1670, where it has lain gleaming with stone, glass and ornate molding for centuries. But the image of it is quite another thing. It’s a fine place of dreams, reverie and contemplation that will never quite square with the merely literal. Thus, Höfer’s photograph is a means of showing us dimensional poetry that mirrors our thinking and meditative states. Plus, the blue-and-white tiles tug us into new, shimmering territory and remind us where (metaphorically) we ought to be on our best days. The photograph is contrived in that we immediately perceive its axiomatic symmetry. But it’s also so deeply stunning that we cease to remember the precise moment when the image halts our breath.

Misty Keasler’s images of Japan’s “Love Hotels,” on the other hand, operate with quite a different vibe. They’re stunningly produced — but ultimately they inform us that things enjoyed by some will never match up with typical Western notions of dreamy sexuality. Her photographs capture a variety of “sexy” spaces intended to heat up romance in Japan by offering allusions to an odd brand of faux innocence. Examples include a carousel, a pirate room, a round sex cage and an igloo motif. Many might find it difficult to reconcile these “hot spots” with more widely known stories of Japanese elegance and decorum. Nonetheless, the sex hotel is as Japanese as sushi — and almost as ubiquitous. It seems that they are nearly as prevalent as Starbucks in America but far less easy to spot. Personally, I find a suite at the New York Peninsula plenty exciting — and room service puts me over the top. No red jail cells or carousels in sight. Am I “Western” or simply a fossil? (My questions are genuine.)

Meanwhile, Laurie Simmons— aka the mom of Lena Dunham of Girls fame — contributes Walking House, 1989, displaying comely female legs clad in pumps with a torso area comprised of a suburban home. Typical interpretations lean into the stereotypical notion of woman-as-sexual-booty and housekeeper. But Simmons has stated that wasn’t her intent. Instead, she sees women as utterly in charge of their homes and surroundings. (In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that I learned this from a museum guard who listened in on a talk by the artist.)

According to an interview in Artnews, Simmons is in her mid-60s and embarking on an upcoming film that will “present an accurate picture of a 60-something woman —somebody who isn’t either a teenager or on the verge of dementia, which are the two Hollywood polarities.” Thus, what we now know about Simmons is that she is seriously ambitious. I mean: How wild can you get?

As for me? Like Connery in Dr. No, I’m just looking. Moreover, there is plenty to see — to look at — at The Modern, with a total of 115 works by an array of artists. Forty of these, including the images by Höfer, Keasler and Simmons, are new acquisitions for the museum’s already exquisite collection. Thus, this review serves as a mere sliver of a view, a vector comprised of a few stars rather than an overview of the exhibition’s shining galactic pyrotechnics.

Framing Desire: Photographs and Videos,” at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, through August 23, 2015.

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