April Fool's Blawg Review Prequel 2007
Why I Will Never Again Speak Ill of Harvard

God's Ocarina

Uberorgan_zm As the Blawg Review Prequel was happily propogating its way through the tubes and into the zeitgeist Sunday afternoon, our museum-appreciating firstborn and I ventured up the Sepulveda Pass to the Getty Center to take in Tim Hawkinson's Zoopsia and Überorgan.  Hawkinson first blipped on the fringes of my attention when his work was incorporated throughout the packaging of Beck's Mutations album -- a good record, that -- and became a personal favorite when, accompanied by the aforementioned firstborn and with some altogether unrelated purpose for being there, I stumbled all unsuspecting into his terrific 2005 retrospective show at LACMA.

Doug Harvey's thoughtful LA Weekly preview of Hawkinson at the Getty declares that retrospective to have been "the last truly important exhibition" LACMA has hosted -- personally, I think the recently closed Magritte show might qualify, but it is a very close call -- and distills Hawkinson's appeal:

[T]he work conflated the intimate and the spectacular, the formal and the conceptual, and the sublime and the ridiculous to a degree unsurpassed anywhere in contemporary art.

As Harvey notes, that 2005 retrospective lacked one thing in its Los Angeles version: the Überorgan.  Slightly different every time it enters the material world, the Überorgan was originally created in 2000 for installation in the cavernous 300'-long Building 5 at MASS MoCA.  When the 2005 retrospective was in residence at the Whitney in New York, a version of the Überorgan was installed in the lobby of the former IBM Building on Madison Avenue.  The installation in the entry pavilion of the Getty marks the first West Coast manifestation of Hawkinson's monumentally silly contraption.  Although the Getty lobby  is a looming and expansive space and the device amply fills it, this is probably the smallest version of the Überorgan to date.

The beauty of the thing lies in its combination of monumentality and frivolity, weight and levity.  It hangs like a mechanical cloud, elaborate out of all proportion to its function, with its components dangling for the world to see.  On examination, its parts frequently reveal their mundane origins: the junctions and t-connectors from which its various tubes emerge prove to be fabricated from what look like plastic bottles and paint buckets, the "piano-roll" that drives the music is a hundreds-foot long plastic sheet with its markings applied by hand with a Sharpee or Magic Marker.  My favorite little detail: that long roll needs to be kept clean, so as it runs through the reader Hawkinson has it sliding beneath the head of an ordinary industrial dustmop.  The ordinariness of the materials suggests that maybe any of us could construct something this grandly absurd, had we but world enough and time in the proper aisles of our local Home Depot.

Each hour on the hour, it plays for five minutes.  We heard it twice on Sunday -- although it is always playing from the same coded roll, its inner circuitry produces random variations on those instructions so that no two runthroughs are the same -- and it drew applause from the crowd each time.  It hasn't got a beat, you can't dance to it, but it blats and thwops and thrums most impressively.  There's streaming audio of the instrument in action at the Getty link atop this post.

Überorgan is in residence atop the Getty acropolis through September 9.


  • "Zoopsia," the group of four Hawkinson works that accompanies the mighty Überorgan, is a modest but enjoyable little room.  Doug Harvey's article above gives a good description of the group, and the Getty site has photos.  Not perhaps worth the trip in itself, but surely worth a look for anyone already there.
  • Several other very good non-Hawkinsonian reasons to head to the Getty at the moment, each of which could (but won't) support a post of its own:
  • A collection of paintings from the Galerie Neue Meister of Dresden, highlighted by eight delicious Casper David Friedrich works -- including the men contemplating the moon previously posted here, which proves to be a much smaller canvas than I had imagined -- and an impressive group of recent Gerhardt Richters.  (Through April 29.)
  • A pair of entirely different but top quality photography installations: Photos of Los Angeles over the past 25 years or so by John Humble, including selections from his series documenting the Los Angeles River from its origin to the sea, and a huge selection of work from P. H. Emerson documenting life in East Anglia from 1885-1895.  Thanks to the latter, I finally know what the Norfolk Broads are.  (Both through July 8.)
  • Video of the design and operation of the original MASS MOCA version of the Überorgan is available on the Hawkinson page of PBS's Art:21 site.
  • YouTube offers a brief, oddly sideways clip of the instrument in operation in the Getty lobby here.
  • In addition to the streaming soundclip on the Getty site, two downloadable MP3s of the Sounds of the Überorgan are available at your one-stop source for all things guardedly avant, Ubuweb
  • The Oddmusic Gallery Überorgan page offers photos of the beast in both its Massachusetts and New York versions.
  • The site of the original Überorgan, MASS MoCA Building 5, is currently the home of an unfinished project by Swiss artist Christoph Büchel that has become, per Tyler Green, "every contemporary curator's worst nightmare."  Read the bloodcurdling details in Geoff Edgers' Boston Globe report.  And read the artist's non-negotiable list of demands on Edgers' Exhibitionist weblog.  Rock Stars seem positively rational by comparison.


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