INVERTED PERSPECTIVE

Installation turns ideals upside-down; 'Niagara' impresses

TIM KANE SPECIAL TO THE TIMES UNION
Section: Preview,  Page: PV22

Date: Thursday, January 14, 2010

The square glass house that's the installation "Gravity is a Force to be Reckoned With" is like something out of "2001: A Space Odyssey." Space-age and dated, it is a vestige of unrealized mid-20th-century possibilities.


The site-specific installation, plopped down like a lunar module in the middle of MASS MoCA's huge Building 5, is an inverted, half-scale replica of Mies van der Rohe's famous -- and never completed -- house from 1951. That house was seen as the epitome of modernism and post-World War II optimism, when hopes were high that problems could be solved through science and design.


At the time, glass was seen as an egalitarian material: Fully transparent, it broke down barriers between people, the environment and identity. Artist Inigo Manglano-Ovalle's piece completes the architect's project by turning his ideas on their head.


The International-style chairs, a couch and coffee table hang as if suspended in time. Sounds from an accompanying film in an adjacent room hauntingly wash over the glass box, with synthesized tones and filtered voices reminiscent of life aboard a vessel traveling thousands of light years from Earth.


Placed diagonally against the hard edges of the space's rectangle shape, the house seemingly spins as you instinctively walk counter-clockwise along its foundation, as if against the flow of time. Around one column, a shattered coffee cup lies on the floor that was a ceiling. A whodunit pervades the scene. What happened?


A video cellphone, dangling precariously from the table, rings and rings: Is somebody going to answer? A women's voice finally does, admonishing us for adhering too much to rational thought, and not employing enough nonsense and frivolity in our lives. The march of progress isn't what it seems.


To Manglano-Ovalle, nonsense is a metaphor for living life in the moment, and not analyzing with cognitive excess. Despite all the knowledge about nature, its laws, like gravity, are still sometimes uncontrollable.


'Strong Impressions'


A theater-like, roped partition prevents viewers from getting close to William Morris Hunt's monumental oil-and-canvas "Niagara" at the Williams College Museum of Art, but it isn't really necessary. The dramatic vantage point over Horseshoe Falls is so extreme, you instinctively step back to avoid falling over the edge.


Below are gallons of nearly translucent turquoise water swirling, gurgling and falling at 35 mph down hundreds of feet to a splashy, spray-filled end. With such a perspective -- there's very little land in the foreground -- Hunt provides a miniature Imax show-stopper.


The 1878 painting, one of several to capture the 19th-century public's imagination that turned the natural wonder into a major tourist destination, is the focal point of the exhibit "Strong Impressions: William Morris Hunt's Niagara."


A landscape artist known for his muted tones, Hunt completed numerous studies that year to find just the right shades of green and blue to reflect the movement of the cascading scene.


The water's deep, yet light-filled color finds the sculpting power in liquid flowing over land and the sheer magnitude of time and erosion.


After trying different perspectives for about a year, Hunt settled on virtually the same spot Frederic Church used for his highly successful rendition nearly 20 years before, pushing the envelope by cropping the frame. Hunt had come to the falls for rest and therapy, but fell under its spell. He died less than a year after completing the picture.


Two other exhibitions, "William Morris Hunt and French Tradition" and "Media Field: Niagara," shed light on the artist's connections to Barbizon School and put Niagara Falls in a broader cultural context, respectively.


Hunt's "Niagara" is part of the WCMA's permanent collection and went through a minor restoration to be displayed. It's the linchpin of a series of exhibitions planned throughout the year on landscapes.


Tim Kane is a freelance writer from Albany and a frequent contributor to the Times Union.


BOX:


On exhibit


"GRAVITY IS A FORCE TO BE RECKONED WITH"


By Inigo Manglano-Ovalle


When: Through Oct. 31


Where: Mass MoCA, North Adams, Mass.


Admission: $15 adults; $10 students; $5 children 6-16; free for children 5 and younger, and for members


Hours: 11 a.m-5 p.m. daily (closed Tuesday) through June 25; summer hours are 10 a.m.-6 p.m. daily


Info: 413-662-2111; http://www.MassMoCA.org


"A STRONG IMPRESSION: WILLIAM MORRIS HUNT'S NIAGARA"


When: Through Jan. 31


Where: Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, Mass.


Cost: Free


Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; 1-5 p.m. Sunday


Info: 413-597-2429; http://www.wcma.org