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★★★✩✩

9 Artists

MIT List Visual Arts Center

Artwork by Yael Bartana, Liam Gillick, Natascha Sadr Haghighian, Renzo Martens, Bjarne Melgaard, Nástio Mosquito, Hito Steyerl, and Danh Vo

Open until July 13, 2014

Tues–Wed: 12 p.m.–6 p.m.

Thurs: 12 p.m.–8 p.m.

Fri–Sun: 12 p.m.–6 p.m.

(Closed Mondays)

Sometimes, contemporary art is inaccessible. It can be excessively abstract or seemingly absurd. Some of the art in the List Visual Arts Center’s current exhibition, 9 Artists, falls into this category. But on the whole, however, this exhibition brings together an interesting and diverse group of contemporary artists in a very powerful presentation.

The exhibition aims to explore the changing role of the artist in today’s culture and highlights the works of eight contemporary artists: Yael Bartana, Liam Gillick, Natascha Sadr Haghighian, Renzo Martens, Bjarne Melgaard, Nástio Mosquito, Hito Steyerl, and Danh Vo. According to the center’s website, “the exhibition examines ways that they negotiate the complexities and contradictions of living in an ever more complex and networked world.” The exhibition features a diverse range of about 40 works, as sculptures, installations, and videos can all be found in the space.

Unfortunately, the exhibition suffers from a recurring problem of modern and contemporary art — it is often too abstract to have any meaning without additional context. As such, I found that looking at the exhibition by myself was not an especially enjoyable experience; however, going on a tour provided the necessary context. Without the context, the message of the pieces is lost.

For example, one of the pieces in the exhibition is a vacuum that occasionally turns itself on. There is no obvious aesthetic or intellectual value. However, the vacuum had been an element of a performance art piece that was meant to comment on the highly digitized nature of modern interactions — but without this extra knowledge, it simply appears to be a vacuum full of little pieces of paper.

Despite some of the drawbacks, I nevertheless enjoyed 9 Artists. This exhibition packs many incredibly interesting works into a small space — from a giant Bloody Mary (left open to the elements so that the viewer might see natural change over time, including evaporation and possible mold growth) to installation pieces that invite the viewer to take a poster to video-based pieces that explore fundamental questions and more. The dearth of space actually enhances the viewing experience — each piece is placed within a logical order that creates conversation about the nature of the present and the roles of the artist and the viewer now.

Ultimately, this is not a good exhibition for those who do not enjoy abstract, conceptual art. While the art pieces are incredibly interesting and quite well curated, most of the artworks are not easily accessible by the average viewer. However, viewing the exhibition with a tour can be a challenging and rewarding experience.

More information can be found at http://listart.mit.edu.