2.7W / Review

The Undivided Mind

By Brian Andrews December 14, 2010

When I was in elementary school, Sundays always followed the same routine. My parents would take me swimming in the afternoon, and in the evening we would watch PBS, as only educational television was allowed in the house. The programming at the time featured NOVANature, and most importantly, Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, a show that would not be missed by my geophysicist father. They would order me a pizza to enjoy as they relaxed in the manner of early 1980s post-hippie scientific intellectuals. The evening would unfold in awe as we learned about intricacies of our planet amid the celestial dance of the vast universe, all the while surrounded by the creature comforts of our living room. Usually, I am loathe to include personal anecdotes in arts criticism. However, this sense of wonder at how physics orders the cosmos is key to understanding the Imaginary Foundation’s exhibition The Undivided Mind, at FIFTY24SF Gallery.

The exhibition begins near the MUNI stop on Fillmore at Haight Street. The sidewalk is stenciled with the Fibonacci sequence of numbers, in which each subsequent number is the sum of the previous two. The graffiti sequence, which is the mathematical foundation of the spiral, leads to the confined gallery, whose walls have been painted black. Every surface is covered with handwritten mathematical formulas and calculus that are inscrutable to everyone but the most scientifically trained in the audience. Large-scale oil paintings interrupt the formulas, vividly depicting cosmic phenomena, prominent scientists, and uplifting witticisms in compositions better suited for clothing and merchandise. Such merchandise is prominently available on the Imaginary Foundation’s website and is part of the gallery’s business model. Hung amid the mathematical proofs, Unified (2010) features a floating, suited figure leaping into a cluster of 

David Wojnarowicz. A Fire In My Belly Excerpt (1986-87); super 8mm film, black and white & color; silent; 7 minutes. Courtesy of The Estate of David Wojnarowicz and P.P.O.W Gallery, New York and The Fales Library and Special Collections/ New York University.

This special edition of Issue 2.7 is in response to the forced removal of David Wojnarowicz's 1987 film A Fire in My Belly from the Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, in Washington, D.C. For more information about the circumstances surrounding the censorship of this work, and for screenings nationwide, please visit: http://www.hideseek.org.

David Wojnarowicz. A Fire In My Belly Excerpt (1986-87); super 8mm film, black and white & color; silent; 7 minutes. Courtesy of The Estate of David Wojnarowicz and P.P.O.W Gallery, New York and The Fales Library and Special Collections/ New York University.

stars. The figures’ airborne gesture is reminiscent of an intergalactic Robert Longo model’s achieving transcendence, or perhaps a potential outcome of Yves Klein’s Leap into the Void (1961).

The work in this exhibition falls into a region easily dismissed by physicists as inaccurate or simplistic, as well as by the contemporary art world for being trite and commercial. These criticisms arise from the exponential development of these academic fields’ conceptual knowledge in the past century. Unfortunately, the modern successes in both disciplines have led them to become esoteric and distant from the culture-at-large as their internal languages and principles evolved into highly specialized knowledge structures. This intellectual evolution has created a gap for the everyday audience member who wants to understand our universe or the visual landscape around them—the discourse is unapproachable and alien to the untrained.

This is where the wonder of Cosmos or NOVA plays its role, bridging the divide between advanced science and the eager public. Contemporary art, however, has no mass-communicated analog. It has steadily ceded influence in visual culture to advertising firms, Hollywood studios, Internet fan-boys, street artists, and crafting amateurs, all of whom have stepped in to fill the void of public visual discourse left by contemporary arts’ increasingly conceptual and insular practices. The broad desire by an audience to participate in visual art could be witnessed at the opening ofThe Undivided Mind. Over five hundred attendees made reservations to get on an open, fire-capacity guest list, and waited in pouring rain in order to squeeze into the tiny storefront gallery. Comparable excitement for a small exhibition of contemporary paintings in an equivalent art-world gallery is hard to imagine. Physics has embraced artwork, animation, and television to communicate exceedingly complex and abstract ideas to both scientists and the public. Perhaps contemporary art should also reach out more directly to the broad public, so that it can regain its influence in, and greatly improve, popular visual culture.



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