A good performer is able to guide and direct their audience to ensure the experience they want.
A great artist, many will say, is able to create works that resist the intended experience entirely, presenting themselves rather differently and uniquely to each individual who sees it, without any attempt to control the audience’s reaction.
He is therefore only a true visionary who centers the majority of his work on capturing this individual, entirely subjective experience and then presenting this like art to their audience.
Iranian iconoclast Abbas Kiarostami is that visionary.
Throughout her life, Kiarostami continually found startlingly creative new ways to explore the relationship between art and audience, often attempting to capture or even fabricate the moment of experience itself.
Although primarily regarded (even by living legends such as Martin Scorsese) as one of cinema’s greatest masters, Kiarostami’s work has woven film, photography, digital art, drawing and concept art into one body and a life of visual expression.
Open this weekend, the Oklahoma City Museum of Art gives visitors the opportunity to discover Kiarostami’s remarkable work with “Abbas Kiarostami: Beyond the Frame”, bringing together short film installations, experimental photography, poetry and a selection of his film. works in the museum’s theater for a unique multimedia exhibition.
Growing up in Iran before the Islamic revolution of the late 70s, Kiarostami began her artistic journey before ‘Western’ influence became taboo, giving her ample time to begin to develop a worldly curiosity and an apparent visual eye. even in his early works.
Although this young exploratory period is represented in the collection – including a printed children’s book layout and a children’s film focusing on color identification – the exhibit begins outside of the timeline with experiments consecutive black and white films. the life of the artist.
Screening just outside the exhibit entrance, “The Bread and Alley” was Kiarostami’s first foray into film, capturing the exceptionally simple story of a boy, a wild dog, and a a piece of food.
Just inside the entrance, guests are greeted with “Take Me Home”, one of the artist’s last assemblages, consisting of sixteen minutes of photographs of stairs and a single animated soccer ball. descending further and further beyond spatial realism or possibility.
This arrangement of works is perhaps a perfect introduction to Kiarostami’s universe. His art, regardless of medium, was often concerned with juxtaposition and imperceptible distances in time, between people, or between art and audience.
The exhibition opening on a single door between the beginning and the end of his artistic life could be the best possible introduction to the world you are about to explore.
Doors, steps, beds and faces
Although Kiarostami’s work is often concerned with the inner life of the spirit and the deeper mysteries of the human world, his artistic concerns often focused on the more austere and simplistic imagery.
Much of the exhibit is devoted to his decades-long photographic exploration “Doors Without Keys”, a collection of life-size closed doors that Kiarostami photographed around the world, often subtly, carefully manipulated to include keyholes and holes. lock preventing entry. Each door may be striking in its weathered appearance or its welcoming quaintness, but each is closed and locked, leaving the viewer only with the mystery of what lies behind.
Similarly, the film “Sleepers,” projected directly onto the floor in the center of its own small room, features a couple sleeping quietly, but intermittently, in bed. Viewers have no way of knowing what they might be dreaming or what is going on with the muffled, distant sounds from outside their bedroom. Only the mystery of the banal remains.
All of these presentations – the photos of the steps next to the animated film that features them, the surreal maze of locked doors, the video of a sleeping couple flattened on the floor in front of you – place the audience’s own experience of the play at the foreground. . You know the steps in the video are still photographs because you’re standing right next to them, but in the movie you can perceive them moving and lifelike.
You know the doors are flat two-dimensional photos, but the lighting and soft ambient noise make you think you could reach out to turn the knobs. You know the sleeping couple is a film being shown, but everyone is quiet and whispers when entering the room so as not to wake them up.
It is clear that Kiarostami wanted the audience’s own minds and perceptions to be at the center of his works, not simply the imagery itself.
Never in the exhibition is this clearer than in 2008’s “Shirin” cinematic experience, featuring a series of close-ups of Iranian women in a darkened theater watching and reacting to a non-existent film purportedly recounting the tragedy of “Khosrow and Shirin”. .”
The museum has brilliantly curated the exhibition so that before entering the room to watch “Shirin”, you encounter the documentary “Taste of Shirin” for the first time, showing you exactly how Kiarostami directed these actresses individually for appear as if they were watching a tragic romance on screen. And yet, when you walk into the next room to see the finished film showing only the faces of the women, it’s impossible not to believe they’re in a real room watching a real movie.
Timeless and timely
As if to punctuate Kiarostami’s belief in capturing the human experience of art rather than the art itself, “Beyond the Frame” culminates beautifully with the “Regardez-moi” collection, a vast selection of photo-manipulations capturing modern viewers versus classic works of art on the walls of the museum. .
Here, Kiarostami is able to best capture this simple, pure moment of experience, sometimes with an anonymous, modern figure admiring a masterpiece, and sometimes a blurry, disinterested person blatantly ignoring a painting, the art seeming to stare or reach out longingly. .
He peppers this huge photographic collection with quiet, subtle connections and visual jokes, often drawing the kind of time-flattening parallels that recall the opening of the exhibition with his barely separated first and last films.
This section of the exhibit also provides a glimpse into the most unfortunately relevant and topical issue presented.
Although “Beyond the Frame” has been planned and developed since 2019, its opening right now, amid worsening violence in Iran and growing protests for women’s freedom, adds a perhaps unintended element to experience.
Perhaps the most striking piece in the ‘Look at Me’ portfolio depicts the hijab-covered head of an Iranian woman gazing at the 1631 painting ‘Venus and the Three Graces Surprised by a Mortal’, in which a group of women entirely naked lounging comfortably and carefree. While the stark contrast was surely Kiarostami’s intention, the mundane backdrop of hijab protests in which we see the piece right now could not have been foreseen.
Beyond the frame
As one of the largest and most sprawling exhibitions ever organized by OKCMOA, “Abbas Kiarostami: Beyond the Frame” represents a historic addition to the city’s artistic history.
Not only is this the first major American display of Kiarostami’s work since his death, but it’s also one of the most comprehensive exhibits the museum has ever seen. The entire third floor is dedicated to a single exhibition for the very first time, and OKCMOA staff have worked closely with the Kiarostami Foundation and even the artist’s own son to present a surprisingly in-depth look at the life’s work of the visionary.
‘Abbas Kiarostami: Beyond the Frame’ opens at OKCMOA on Saturday, October 15 and will run through April 2023. Throughout this time, the Noble Theater will present an evolving retrospective of Kiarostami’s films, including a selection of features internationally acclaimed films and shorts.
For schedules, tickets and more information, visit okcmoa.com.
Last updated October 14, 2022, 7:54 p.m. by Brett Dickerson – Editor