A Journey that Wasn’t
The Broad, Los Angeles
Time is something both real and imagined. We may wake up to an alarm clock in the morning or see lines form around our eyes, but our imagination of time is extremely limited. Time is essentially abstract, and impossible to define or organize. With that in mind, how we interpret and perceive time is the basis of a new exhibition at the Broad in Los Angeles. Entitled A Journey That Wasn’t, more than twenty contemporary artists reflect on the passage of time.
There are a number of superb works in this show that range from paintings by Ed Ruscha to video installations by Ragnar Kjartannson. There is a fabulously weird piece called the house high low! by Elliott Hundley that seems to be in equal parts collage, sculpture, and painting. However, A Journey That Wasn’t is not only the title of the exhibition, but also the name of a work by the French artist Pierre Huyghe.
A Journey That Wasn’t (the piece, not the exhibition) deserves its place as the headliner of this show. Originally created in 2006, Huyghe created a video that cuts between video of an Antarctic expedition to find an albino penguin and its subsequent recreation in the ice rink of New York’s Central Park. The stunning shots of icy, primordial terrain mixed with their surreal recreations in an entirely man-made environment is a sight to behold. It’s a sensual pleasure to take this film in. However, the title suggests a catch: Huyghe may not have taken this trip to the South Pole. Or maybe he did. The point is that our distinctions between reality and fabrication become increasingly blurred, and the version in Central Park further breaks down what may or may not have occurred on this trek. In the end, the video’s narrative forces a viewer to give up time and experience when navigating this work.
This exhibition is also careful to balance the elaborate videos of Huyghe and Kjartannson with the power of distinct images and objects. In Andreas Gursky’s photograph F1 Boxenstopp III from 2007, pit crews attend to race cars. However, this panorama is caught in complete stillness. Instead of the frenetic speed we associate with racing, Gursky inverts the narrative by slowing time to a standstill. The pit crews hover almost like surgeons in a quiet and tense operating room. In fact, the photograph recalls a lineage of art that uses medical practice or surgery as a subject. Some famous examples would include Rembrandt’s The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp or The Agnew Clinic by Thomas Eakins. Through this clever referencing, Gursky not only slows down this kind of time (one of panic and adrenaline), but practically reverses it into the past.
This is an exhibition of layers and density, so it’s not surprising that you may leave feeling that you have more questions than answers. This isn’t the type of show offering up a solution or edict on the mysteries of time. However, maybe it’s better to consider this exhibition as a rumination rather than anything cut-and-dried. Time is slippery and strange, but as A Journey That Wasn’t proves, it’s endlessly fascinating.