A quick glance around the UMMA Projects exhibit by Danish artist Simon Dybbroe Møller reveals a maze of glass with seemingly everyday objects scattered about each transparent corner. But a walk through the maze, titled “BRAIN II-V,” brings to light its purposeful puzzlement. The artist visually challenges the notion of transparent meaning in contrast to recent trends in modern art.
UMMA Projects: Simon Dybbroe Møller
Through Feb. 13
“You’re almost struck by its lack of communication, or by its sheer weirdness,” said Jacob Proctor, the University of Michigan Museum of Art’s associate curator of modern and contemporary art. “In some ways, it’s celebrating those kind of experiences.”
A paint-worn coat and a handwritten “note to self” juxtapose against framed sketches in the exhibit, designed specifically for a space in the recently built Maxine and Stuart Frankel and the Frankel Family Wing. Sunshine streams through the building’s glass walls and bounces off the glass panels within, illuminating and blinding in turn; each corner holds latent surprise. A trash basket filled with crumpled color photographs, suggesting Møller’s memories, reminds museum-goers that the exhibit explores his mind.
Proctor became familiar with Møller in 2007 at a group show in Hanover, Germany. He continued to follow the artist’s work, eventually asking him to present at UMMA.
“I was impressed by the level of conceptual and formal sophistication, especially the level of formal restraint, unusual in an artist of his age,” Proctor said of Møller, who is in his mid-30s.
Møller complicates and questions the ideal of transparency in modern art, presenting “unexpected configurations” so that “initial misrecognition leads to a moment of aesthetic discovery,” according to the UMMA website.
“There’s a kind of formal transparency, which is, at the same time, rubbing up against a conceptual obscurity,” Proctor said. “You can see everything, but there is not a transcendent rationality that emerges.”
According to Proctor, the modernist ideal of transparency, exemplified by the exterior of the Centre Pompidou in Paris, has been tied to the ideal of rationality. The goal is to show every aspect of the works’ production and thus meaning, like the color-coded internal systems displayed on the outside of the Pompidou. Møller explores what can be known about artistic and individual intention.
“What it rubs up against is a kind of irrational, unknowable parts of the mind or of the artistic process,” Proctor said.
Like the Pompidou, Møller literally presents every element of the exhibit. The nails or screws used to hang pieces on the glass panels are not hidden; he often tapes notes and photos directly onto the glass. But there is no guide to traverse the meaning and connections of the piece.
Relationships do begin to emerge within the exhibit, like a folded paper photogram and its blown-up reproduction. However, those connections often take the observer to an object that is completely obscure.
Along with the play on transparency, “BRAIN II-V” aims to demolish the hierarchy imposed on objects and elements of the creative process. Møller presents his influences (like artistic works by friends), elements of his artistic planning process and objects from his life equally.
“So finished objects and just a handwritten note to oneself are hung, essentially, at the same level,” Proctor explained.
This exhibit is a full environment for the viewer, and it explores the experience of surroundings in that way.
In keeping with the goals for artists exhibiting in the UMMA Projects series, “BRAIN II-V” is Møller’s first North American solo museum exhibit for an artist who has received much attention abroad.
“He has had a real meteoric rise,” Proctor said. “This exhibit brings to Ann Arbor and to the University an artist who is a rising star of his generation on an international level.”