Wichita State University Contemporary Art History Professor Dr. Royce Smith has organized and curated a small, yet potent show titled, Response to Provocation: Living Memoirs of the Culture Wars. Installed in the McKnight Art Center at WSU, this is a mature-themed show that draws connections between the Culture Wars of the 1990’s and today’s on-going social and cultural debates. The University serves as the ideal environment to have these productive discussions.
This show presents key works by Nan Goldin, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, and David Wojnarowicz – three critically acclaimed and highly-influential artists. On the first floor, Wojnarowicz’s video “A Fire in My Belly” enjoys its debut in Kansas and provokes difficult questions about society’s pleasure in spectacle and human suffering. His video was recently removed from the 2010 Smithsonian exhibition after caving to political pressure and threats of budget reduction.
Paired with Wojnarowicz’s video is the unassuming work by Felix Gonzalez-Torres titled “Placebo” – a work consisting of 1,200 pounds of hard candy wrapped in silver cellophane. Sprawling over the atrium floor, visitors are invited to take and eat the candy. Yet, this act of consumption and slow dissipation is a charged action that resonates with the artist’s loss of his partner to AIDS and ultimately dying of AIDS-related complications himself.
On the third floor, a second work by Gonzalez-Torrez consists of two identical clocks hung side-by-side and synchronized. Titled “Perfect Lovers,” these clocks tick away the time together, yet slowly become out of synch. Eventually one will stop before the other, creating a powerfully tragic yet beautiful metaphor.
Nan Goldin’s “Ballad of Sexual Dependency” is a slide show of photographs that plays on loop and is accompanied by music. This work consists of more than 700 images taken over three decades of her close friends, acquaintances, and lovers. This voyeuristic practice reveals Goldin’s personal history though intimate moments and personal tumult.
These works comprise one of the most daring shows Wichita currently has to offer. Dr. Smith was able to put together a show that I believe no other local art institution could.