Manny Farber (1917 - 2008) believed that that there was two types of art: Termite Art and White Elephant Art. White Elephant Art was more interested in grandiosity and big ideas. It is literally the elephant in the room; the art that cannot be ignored by the viewer and has to be acknowledged by all those who are in its presence. Termite Art was about the personal and the exploration of the temporal moment. Like termite bugs that eat from within, Termite Art begins from within the artist and focuses on the immediacy of the moment. The temporal art and the moment is the focus the group show "One Day at a Time: Manny Farber and Termite Art" curated by Helen Molesworth, which explores the connection between Manny Farber's theory of art and contemporary artists working today.
Farber wanted the viewer to look at art as an exercise in examining the world; the everyday. It is more than the everyday. It is about the "moment" where the everyday life and "time" itself converge
The exhibition places Farber as the progenitor of an art about the intimate vision of the artists. The objects, people and places that originate and derive from and in the presence of the artist. Termite Art is always focused on a particular area and is not concerned with making big statements. White Elephant Art is self aware and concerned with fame, while Termite Art is derives from the artist and artist centered. Termite Art is concentrated "on nailing down one moment without glamorizing it, but forgetting this accomplishment as soon as it has passed; the feeling that is expendable, that it can be chopped up and flung down in a different arrangement without ruin."
From Farber's theory of art, Molesworth brings together 32 artists who practices reflect various approaches to the idea of Termite Art. The exhibition is divided in 9 different themes reflecting an aspects of Termite Art. The exhibition begins with the work of Manny Farber himself. The paintings, which are interspersed within the show with other artists, display various objects and images within the canvas. Farber's eye is shared with the viewer of the painting as the objects cover and occupy the entire pictorial space. Farber demonstrates the meaning and practice of "termite art." The immediacy and temporal position of Farber paintings are placed near works by the other artists in the exhibition. The galleries are set up as exercises in comparisons and contrasts.
Of the 32 artists that are gathered for this exhibition, each of the works illustrate and approach the idea of the present differently. the best works are by Dike Blair, Joan Brown, Jordan Casteel, Vija Celmins, Leidy Churchman, Tacita Dean, Manny Farber, Fischli & Weiss, Jennifer Guidi, Roni Horn, Sylvia Plimack Mangold, Chris Marker, Josiah McElheny, Roy McMakin, Rodney McMillian, Aliza Nisenbaum, Catherine Opie, Charles Ray, Rachel Rose, and Wolfgang Tillmans. I think a true masterpiece of video art is "Fly Paper" (2017) by Kahlil Joseph, whose video is being shown at the MOCA satellite location in West Hollywood at the Pacific Design Center. The eleven minute video reflects on an aging dancer played by Ben Vereen. It is elegy on the past and present, and where both intersect within the everyday. "Fly Paper" is a thought provoking piece that deserves examination. The most problematic artist in this show is Josiah McElheny. McElheny's large scale sculpture seems out of place compared to the rest of the art, whose work reflects a deep reflection of the everyday. McElheny's work seems large in its ideas and approach to its subject matter, and fits more into Farber's idea of White Elephant art; the anathema of what termite art is defined. After going to the concurrent survey's of Laura Owens and Zoe Leonard, Owens and Leonard would fit more into the idea of termite art, which are illustrated in the exhibition.
The idea of termite art is presented as an antidote to the current monstrosity of the big name artist. As much as the idea of Termite art is presented as the potential savior from the ego driven art of the current market driven styles and movements, white elephant art is popular. White elephant art brings lines around the block. The challenge to the idea of termite art is go beyond the narcissism that is so prevalent. Molesworth by placing the idea of termite art into the conversation presents an alternative. However, it needs to be translated into something that is a credible challenge to ever popular superficial. "One Day at a Time" is a good start.
"One Day at a Time: Manny Farber and Termite Art"
on view through March 11, 2019
Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
250 South Grand Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90012moca.org
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|Installation view with Roy McMakin and Many Farber
|Fischli & Weiss
|Fischli & Weiss
|Fischli & Weiss
|Sylvia Plimack Mangold
|Insallation View of Wolfgang Tillmans