“Real duration is that duration which gnaws on things and leaves on them the mark of its tooth.” Henri Bergson, Creative Evolution
Many evolving things exist in any present moment – the past, the expected, the here, the there, the self, the other – and we are constantly selecting which points to focus on, which ones to store away for later, and which to disregard. The Studio Museum is, for me, one of those exceptional art spaces in New York City that has the ability to pull us away from our everyday framing of the present moment in a poetic shift of perspective, reclaiming points of view that our society all too often chooses not to prioritize. Since it’s founding in 1968, the museum has built an international reputation as a nexus and catalyst for artists of African descent through its highly regarded permanent collection, temporary exhibitions, and artist-in-residence programs. Our visit was the perfect way to end a series of art-ventures during the IDSVA winter residency, and one I eagerly anticipated throughout the week.
On view was A Constellation, an exhibition curated by Amanda Hunt that juxtaposes eight historical works from the Studio Museum’s permanent collection with recent works by eighteen contemporary artists, all of whom were showing at the museum for the first time. An intergenerational dialogue explored the themes of the figure, formal abstraction, economy, African diaspora and materiality. Downstairs from A Constellation was another exhibition curated by Hunt, Lorraine O’Grady: Art Is…, featuring a series of photographs by O’Grady from 1983 showing various parade onlookers in Harlem posing in a gilded picture frame. The O’Grady exhibit served as profound counterpoint to A Constellation, offering an additional re-framing of the past in the present moment and an alternative self-identity in the history of art.
Reflecting back on this exhibition and on the IDSVA winter residency in general, I am reminded of the theories of Henri Bergson. Using the metaphor of life as the gesture of a hand moving in an arc from point A to point B, Bergson claims that the objective, mechanistic view consists of seeing only the positions, and in its finalism, is limited. There are an infinite number of positions, or points, on a curved line and it is impossible for us to have a full understanding by only focusing on the points we know. This is like saying a curved line is only made up of straight lines, because we can only see straight lines. We’re riding this curved arc like a wave, beautifully simple for life and while impossible to comprehend in its totality. Institutions such as the Studio Museum present reimagined constellations of art and philosophy.