The chic, industrial Beverly Hills outpost of Gagosian, just a stone’s throw from bustling Santa Monica Boulevard, has been transformed into a quiet sanctuary courtesy of a show titled simply, “Beginning.”
Conceived by venerable curator Francesco Bonami, the show is sparse but considered, with four monumental works by artists who know how to make viewers feel. “The exhibition is about walking, crossing, looking, sleeping, fearing, and dying,” Bonami says, “but it also reminds us that every time we walk, cross, look, sleep, fear, or die, we have the chance to begin again.”
The largest work greets the visitor head on: Maruizio Cattelan’s Father (2021), a supersize black-and-white photograph of the soles of two bare feet covered in dirt and creased with wrinkled skin. It is impossible not to think of the feet as belonging to a corpse, ready to be pulled out of a morgue’s cabinet. On the floor is Rudolf Stingel’s wall-to-wall carpet installation Untitled (1994/2022), muffling the footsteps of visitors and dampening the sound of the high-ceilinged room.
Also on display is Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s “Untitled” (Beginning) (1994), a curtain of green and silver beads suspended from the ceiling across the length of the entrance so that visitors must pass through it, rustling the gem-like orbs. Gonzalez-Torres’s work recalls the inescapability of encountering AIDS during the onset of the crisis, much as the COVID-19 crisis permeated every aspect of daily life and is still a heavy presence looming over social interactions.
The final work is Richard Prince’s Spiritual America 4, a portrait of model Brooke Shields that is Prince’s second such work. (The first was appropriated from another artist’s photograph of Shields at age 10, prompting a lawsuit from the model and her mother.) This new iteration from 2005 was taken with a 40-year-old Shields’s full participation, having wrested control of her image and sexuality.
We caught up with Gagosian Beverly Hills senior director Deborah McLeod to discuss the nature of beginnings and what makes this show so timely.
Why the theme of “beginning,” when it seems so many things on a global scale are ending?
You have answered the question! Endings bring beginnings. Everything is a cycle and there is a whisper of rebirth even at the very moment of loss.
Do you see beginnings as optimistic, or is it perhaps the beginning of the end?
Optimistic. The show causes you to take pause and reflect. The experience is hushed, and slows your heart rate. You walk silently on Stingel’s black carpet, and three times through Gonzales-Torres’s beaded curtain. Each time, you feel the metaphorical beginning-again.
How do you think the body features into the installation?
The human body is key. Yours first and foremost. You feel the carpet under your feet and the beads drag across your skin. You confront Richard Prince’s Spiritual America IV, which is a larger-than-life portrait of a confident Brooke Shields owning her body and engaging yours with an intense gaze. In the next gallery, Maurizio Cattalen’s 16-foot mural of a pair of feet is a kind of self-portrait despite its title, Father, referencing the generational cycle of life. These soles (or souls?) also call to mind [Andrea] Mantegna’s Lamentation of Christ.
What do you hope visitors will take away from viewing the show?
A pause. A moment of reflection about the state of the world and our lives personally. It is meditative, sorrowful, and optimistic all at once. This is the power of art.
Why stage this show in Beverly Hills? Is that part of the broader conceit?
The show was mounted during what is normally our “Oscar” show—a glamorous exhibition celebrating a great artist and all the glitter of the Academy Awards. This year Larry [Gagosian] invited Francesco Bonami to curate something of an UN-Oscar show to capture the pathos of this moment in time. So yes, the Beverly Hills location at this time of year does amplify the weight of the show.
Is there one specific work in the show that best captures the ethos?
There are only four works in the show. Each one is so powerful. It is the dialogue between them that captures the ethos.
“Beginning” curated by Francesco Bonami is on view at Gagosian Bevery Hills through June 4, 2022.
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