Simon Dybbroe Møller
The mind of the artist
by Grant Mandarino
Like a lot of other people, I often find contemporary installation art to be groan inducing. What is meant to be a profound comment on some aspect of global society or a critique of traditional aesthetics all too often fails to get its point across. Thankfully, the new piece by Simon Dybbroe Møller at UMMA does not fit this model.
BRAIN II-V is the Danish artist's first solo exhibition in a U.S. museum, and it's a doozy. It is constructed of several sets of transparent plastic walls set out in a labyrinthine pattern through the gallery, and viewers can wander through them. Along the way they find a variety of disparate objects hanging on these walls: framed drawings and photos; a paint-spattered work coat; a one-way mirror; cryptic notebook pages (one contains a small map of central Berlin sketched by the artist); a painting that still reeks of wet enamel. According to curator Jacob Proctor, the work is "an allegory of the mind of the artist himself," something like an imaginary exhibit of bits and pieces gathered from Møller's life and artistic preoccupations.
It's a gimmicky conceit, for sure, but Møller pulls it off-mainly because the details he's chosen are so evocative and precise. Take the two shelves of objects on one wall. The wooden blocks carved into Tetris forms refer to one of Møller's earlier works; a bowl of European model toy cars speaks perhaps to some boyhood obsession (or maybe an allusion to the expense of owning a car in Denmark, where registration rates are exorbitant?); the volume by Villy Sørenson, the Danish hero of modernist prose, clearly touches on Møller's interest in the history of modernism.
Playing this kind of game can be fun, but I don't think Møller thought it essential. What is truly ingenious about BRAIN is the way it fits perfectly within its location. The transparent walls match the glass walls of the gallery, effectively collapsing the public space outside the gallery into
the interior exhibition space. Formally this speaks to the supposed opacity of contemporary art-Møller's made his entire exhibition visible, down to the screws that hold up his scattered items. Metaphorically we might say that it demonstrates the porous nature of memory: the artist's mind is on display for all to see, without clear definitions of inside and outside. Møller's piece works because it does not wholly rely upon foreknowledge of its concept; seeing the work as an allegory of the artist's mind is one way of experiencing the installation, but experiencing it without any prior knowledge is a visual experience just as meaningful. That, I'd argue, is the point, and it succeeds wonderfully.
[Originally published in December, 2010.]