(Photo from a thoughtful post on Vortex at Olds Road Blog)
I'm in Fort Worth visiting family for a few days, and I'm on a sudden art kick, so it only made sense that I stop by the excellent Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. It's close to the doctor's office where my aunt goes on Mondays, so I had the bright idea to combine the two today – except I forgot that, like most museums, the Modern is closed on Mondays. There's nothing more frustrating than being primed for some ART and finding the doors locked on you. But there ended up being a big fringe benefit. Standing out front of the Modern is Richard Serra's Vortex (2002), a five-story monument constructed of six sheets of corroding metal that meet and overlap like a closed blossom.
Since the museum was closed, I got to spend a good twenty minutes practically alone with the sculpture before going on my disappointed way. I'm primarily familiar with Serra through the tribute paid to him by Matthew Barney, and Vortex has all of the features that association would suggest – it's intimidating, aggressive, dark, and awe-inspiring. Its plates are oxidized in a way that implies some fundamental fragility, with tiny spots and flakes and color shifts across the surface that make it seem like the product of some atavistic alternate 19th century steelworks. The petals are parted in two places near the base to allow foot traffic inside, where the floor space is about half the size of my apartment. Looking up through the hexagonal opening at the tip of the metal plates is disorienting – I had a distinct impression that the walls were spinning as I watched clouds pass over the lens. It's really a profound thing, though I'd speculate the appeal skews male (talk about phallic).
What it made me think about most was the status of aged objects. Current U.S. culture has a big place in its heard for the old but beautiful. Much of the 'oldness' we've come to consume is manufactured, from Urban Outfitters' stacks of identical vintage t-shirts to the stacks of hooks and candelabras at stores hawking shabby chic design (cf. shabby chic interior design). I'm pretty hard-wired to condemn that stuff at the commercial level, but confronting Vortex is a good corrective to that impulse. Much of Serra's schtick involves peddling an imaginary antiquity, some mix of the industrial revolution and the Mayans (if I wanted to get really low, I'd risk calling him 'steampunk'). But for all that it's manufactured, this antiquity is really moving. And it's certainly a product – Serra is a manufacturer, just as much as the people at Anthropologie (sp?). Is it possible there's some positive, reflective quality to the mass openness to consuming newly produced antiques?