by Ann Wertheier, November 2013
The landscaping by Peter Walker is undeniably beautiful, with deer romping around the edge of the pond. The sunset after the excellent guided tour couldn't be beat. The man-made structures - the guardhouse, the Rales family residence, the museum itself – were all designed by Charles Gwathmey. This is definitely all worth an excursion to Maryland ‘horse country’ in Potomac (Maryland), median income somewhere around $242,000.
Everyone we met – the guard at the guardhouse and the two docents – were charming, well-informed and seemed sincerely interested in the visitors they were shepherding around the very strictly run museum: no wandering around the grounds, no photographing anywhere, by appointment-only entry, and, happily, neither entrance fee nor gift shop. See www.glenstone.org for details.
But with the exception of some monumental outdoor sculptures (more about these to come), I found the artwork disappointing. None of the works in the permanent collection - nothing by Matisse, Calder, Rothko or Pollack, nothing by de Kooning, Twombly, Johns or Rauschenberg – were on display. The entire museum was dedicated to the special exhibition: Fischli/Weiss.
Peter Fischli (b. 1952 ) and David Weiss (1946-2012), two Swiss artists who liked their names combined and did not distinguish their work by individual signatures, provided artwork for all four of museum rooms plus the large entrance hall. This very large entrance contained many small, child-like sculptures of unfired clay that could only be 'appreciated' by reading the captions. In between were a few items made of cast rubber.
The first room showed photographs of every-day items strangely attached to each other, supposedly without the use of any adhesives. These sculptures seem only to have existed for the time it took to photograph them, or perhaps slightly longer, as they depended on delicate balance and were quickly subject to the law of gravity. Think Rube Goldberg simplified. I’m sure the Fischli/Weiss documentary film showing how they made these assemblages is more entertaining.
In the following very spacious room there was an installation: a reproduction of a huge workshop including tables, tools, barrels, a pack of cigarettes, all of which, on closer inspection – but no touching – were made of polyurethane.
In the next room there was a very long horizontal light table filled with hundreds of small-format slide-like photos of Fischli/Weiss's favorite vacation spots, including airports. The docents mentioned that the museum visitors always say something like "This must be Las Vegas" or "I was in Paris two years ago"!
The final room showed interesting questions projected onto a wall, several at a time, each fading into the next. The original French had been cleverly translated into colloquial English and our tour group chuckled. The show lasts for two hours; our group gave it about 10 minutes. Two over-sized stuffed animals were suspended from the ceiling.
This question crossed my mind: How can the same artistic sensibility, namely the Rales Foundation, have wanted to own the Calders and the Matisses, or the impressive Ellsworth Kelly column on the far side of the pond or the monumental Richard Serra at the museum entrance, on the one hand, and the Fischli/Weisses or the Jeff Koons giant toy along the driveway, on the other hand? But perhaps the Koons will be more interesting when the hundreds of pansies covering its surface are in bloom and the sculpture itself is completely hidden.