Todd Mrozinski
Visual Art

Dancing to the Music of Time

The artist Nares creates a whole world with his art, in a must-see show at the Milwaukee Art Museum.

By - Jul 26th, 2019 01:57 pm
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"Nares Moves." Photo courtesy of the Milwaukee Art Museum.

“Nares Moves.” Photo courtesy of the Milwaukee Art Museum.

We were submerged in an underwater world, a film about water that viewers walk into at this exhibition, until we emerged from it back at the point where we started and the two children who came with me jumped with disbelief when I said we were in the show for over an hour. They said it seemed like 20 minutes and experienced a time warp submerged in the playful world of James Nares and his show “Nares: Moves” at the Milwaukee Art Museum. What created this portal, this matrix?

The show is the first-ever retrospective of the artist’s five-decade-long career and is said to be the most technologically complicated show ever done at the museum. It is all arranged in a large loop, bypassing the usual exit at the gift shop. This radial setup mimics Nares’ circular pieces called “Giotto Circle”. The first version was created in 1975, where he positions himself at the center of a wall and using his shoulder as the fulcrum with outstretched arm, creates a continuous circle. It is an ode to the Italian artist Giotto (ca. 1266-1337) who drew a perfect circle freehand. During his last visit to MAM this summer Nares made one called “Giotto Circle #4,” at the back east entrance in graphite on a red canvas, the sheen of the graphite glowing blue as it picked up the reflection of the sky and water of Lake Michigan.

The exhibition is divided into nine areas of interest rather than being arranged chronologically. A New York resident since 1974, Nares creates works with movement through video, photography, drawing, painting and sculpture and is included in such museums as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, MOMA and The Whitney. Moments in time are recorded and analyzed, magnified through high-quality, slow-motion film and the viewer is given the chance to see how extraordinary reality truly is. It is mesmerizing and the viewer can stare like a baby with fresh eyes and with no fear of offense.

In the video, “Street”, we are allowed a small sliver of time in a stranger’s day as Nares films crowded New York streets as he drives by, with each short epic moment accentuated by the video score, the solo guitar work of Thurston Moore, co-founder of Sonic Youth. In super slow motion, figures float in space, some almost like statues as the camera films and drives past, creating a mesmerizing tapestry of real life characters. Slowing things way down allows us to look closely at every individual as if in a dream, the beauty of a delicate step on a rainy street, a little girl skipping, her flowing hair turning into Botticelli swirls, blinking lights through smoky glass, with the guitar strumming — the music is integral. I noticed myself looking for Nares filming in the window reflections. The simultaneous slow motion and driving movement create an otherworldly experience, like seeing with fresh, bionic eyes. It’s focused creative energy, the purity of play.

One gallery of the exhibition titled “Release” is dedicated to the movement of the body and features pieces using chronophotography, which captures the movement of subjects in several frames of print. The result is a ripple effect, as if Nares is painting with the body in space. In the room furthest to the back is a gallery displaying Nares’ tools and studio objects. It is a magical collection of brushes made with feathers or by combining multiple brushes. We receive a private view into the artist’s method and inventive approach to art making and feel this zeal in the liveliness of the paintings in the gallery titled “Mark”. These paintings are generally made of a single brush stoke. But oh what a stroke! It dances like a windswept ribbon in the space of the canvas and seems to glow as if backlit. I couldn’t help thinking of Zorro, after a victory, leaving his mark.

In one series called “High Speed Drawings,” large sheets of paper are taped tightly to a big metal drum which spins like a lathe. Using a brush altered with a hollow handle which allows a container of ink to be attached and squeezed to control the flow, Nares touches the surface and the spinning paper collects the ink in lines. A video shows the method and is a generous addition to this retrospective. Focusing on process, the finished works are the beautiful remains of Nares’ dance through life, discovering himself and showing us ourselves in the process.

“Nares: Moves” Gallery

“Nares: Moves,” at the Milwaukee Art Museum, 700 N. Art Museum Dr., through the month of Oct 6th.

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