Ghosts of Exhibitions Past: My Year in BCAM

After a hundred and twenty odd hours on a post—in my case, on the second floor of BCAM—an image can get lodged on the back of the retina, ghostlike—and lovingly so, if you’re lucky. A tale told in a single image can be a haunting affair, and may even become the symbol of that exhibition, intentional or not.

Thus Jean-Michel Basquiat’s untitled head from the inaugural BCAM exhibition flashes its indelible and striking image. In a white gallery, the black spiky skull, bristling with ferocity, jarring color, and a wink of ironic humor, sits iconically in my brain, like the ghost it is.

From there we travel back in time to last winter’s Art of Two Germanys/Cold War Cultures. Hans Grundig’s To the Victims of Fascism is a harrowing painting of two Jews prostrated in dying poses while a red-orange sky is littered with blackbirds soaring portentously overhead. This is but one page of a profound scholarship that traces the pathos of a nation coming to terms with a dark and diabolical past. The idea of a “haunting” may not say enough about this giant of an exhibition.

Hans Grundig, To the Victims of Fascism, 1946/49, © 2009 Hans Grundig Estate/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

But like it or not, the scene changes from World War II’s broken and dark past, and I find myself in Your Bright Future, a new and strange and even somewhat personal construct of another nation’s life. Once more, an emphatic and imposing piece of art becomes a mesmerizing experience. The once small grey gallery morphs into a large white cavernous space, dimly lit. Here a vanity is brought to life as a small Korean house crashes into a larger American boarding house. With Do Ho Suh’s Fallen Star 1/5, we enter a private metaphor, a dream as it were, in unbelievable detail. The dollhouses are brought to a reality that is indescribable; yet they achieve a demonstrative display of alienation and integration.

Installation view, Fallen Star 1/5, 2008-09, Courtesy of the artist and Lehmann Maupin Gallery, New York

In spite of these hypnotic ghosts, the last exhibit is a form of release, for the images are framed photographs of the delightful and captivating series of The Sum of Myself: Photographic Self-Portraits from the Audrey and Sydney Irmas Collection, spanning a hundred and fifty years—of which, from my station, sadly I can only see the sides of frames.

Yes, those past powerful exhibitions are with me still; they are forms of immateriality that give art the hold it has, or can have, on us.

Hylan Booker, Gallery Attendant

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