Art doesn’t have to be representational or easy on the eyes. Exhibitions should push and pull a viewer in unexercised directions. But some sop to integrity and coherence isn’t too much to ask.
‘Beyond Brancusi: The Space of Sculpture’ at the Norton Simon until January 2014 fails on both counts. There’s one actual Brancusi. It’s on the first floor on a high pedestal to force the reverential gaze. The skylight bathes it in a soft glow.
‘Beyond’ is where the rest of the 18 pieces sit. In the basement, next to the exquisite South Asian sculptures, in three sparse galleries of progressive bewilderment. Henry Moore and Isamu Noguchi are well-known but the specific pieces don’t convey why. Look up Barbara Hepworth and you see some beautiful work. None of them are here. We’re invited to walk, albeit lightly, on a 12×12 matrix of aluminum tile. The breathy descriptions claim that 2x4s hanging from a rope, sliced felt, and assorted plastics (re)define the Space of Sculpture. The grand invention seems to be putting gaps negative space in solid objects.
It’s all very earnest, full of curatorial verve, and a crashing disappointment. You go in expecting the best sculptural minds of the past century, you’re out in five minutes feeling duped, soured to be unable to enjoy the rest of the museum’s collection.