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Fragments of Infinity: Douglas Gordon at Park Avenue Armory

The lighting scheme from MoMA’s Rain Room (2013). Fragmented musical scores realized on broken player pianos. Once the initial disorientation was overcome, the recently closed Park Ave Armory exhibition tears become…streams become… by Douglas Gordon offered visitors fragmented silence and an unprecedented expanse of space. The contemporary art installation captured a swath of ceiling echoed within the shallow pool below. This effect created a dissipated sense of dimension, opening up new possibilities for literal and psychological reflection. Intermittent performances by pianist Hélène Grimaud allowed for a new means of encountering the site as a conduit for music and performance art.  For visitors circumambulating the main reflecting pool, the stark lighting penetrated the still water’s surface, unfolding reverse-constructed realities.


tears become...streams become.. by Douglas Gordon, install photograph by James Ewing

tears become…streams become.. by Douglas Gordon, install photograph by James Ewing

Gordon’s site-specific piece has come under scrutiny for its apparent emptiness, both literal and thematically, but it was this same expansive quality and openness to interpretation that lent the exhibit its impact. Encountering depth and volume only found in Gothic cathedrals and (likely) the pyramids, Gordon’s work transformed this multi-dimensional event site into a lush, contemplative experience. Reconciling dualities became an effort which permeated Gordon’s work, the installation challenging notions of up and down, lightness and darkness, and silence and noise….with the silence of the installation only broken by the occasional muffled voice and jangle of automatically played piano keys. The majesty of the two pianos suspended over the water was surreal, the passing time marked only by the chime of dissonant chords and a single ticking clock.

installation shot of tears become..streams become.., in darkness

installation shot of tears become..streams become.., in relative darkness

While it may be easy to lump Gordon’s elegiac work with the kind of high-impact installation art so in vogue lately (Zwirner’s recent Yayoi Kusama retrospective and Kara Walker’s Domino Factory Sugar Baby come to mind), this show didn’t so much continue the trend as provide an alternate reality version of the same. For the visitor, the exhibit was a bit of an art world version of the film Labyrinth, in which the closer one seemed to the surface of the reflecting pool the farther away one’s gaze was drawn. There was a subtlety to the work as a whole that was easily dismissed as a gimmick. The site’s optical illusions and gently fading sound of piano keys worked to conceal another realm the viewer was forced to experience: the realm of self in a zone of silence. This added layer is one that has been denied in the distractions of sugar mammies and multi-colored dots encountered by this art critic in installations of late.

Douglas Gordon’s work tears become…streams become.. was on view until January 4, 2015 at the Park Ave Armory, which will be hosting an exhibit in summer of 2015 by artist Phillipe Pareno co-curated by Hans-Ulrich Obrist and Alex Poots.

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