What Is Left Unspoken, Love at the High Museum of Art through August 14 is a timely acknowledgement of the need for love.
Composed of 70 works by 35 artists and curated by Michael Rooks, What is Left Unspoken, Love complements an earlier exhibition, War, (What Is It Good For?) that Rooks curated for the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago in 2003. Of course, the musical response to this title is “absolutely nothing.” Rooks had been thinking about a curatorial response to his Chicago exhibition and What Is left Unspoken, Love is the counterpoint to that exhibit.
The High exhibition is in six parts, each focusing on a different kind of love. However, these categories overlap and overlay one another providing little guidance to each of the 35 artists’ subject matter.
What Is Left Unspoken, Love feels a bit like a biennial, a little something for everyone. Since “love is love,” viewers can respond to the works that speak to them and address the multiple possibilities of this primal emotion.
There is lots of color and big works in the Love exhibition, but the works that eschew the frothy physicality of saturated color stand out for their tenderness of expression.
Upon entering the exhibition, one encounters “The End (Action #5),” 2015, by Italian artist Andrea Galvani. It comprises a video of a sunset seen at the precise moment when the solar globe rests on the horizon and is displayed on a small laptop sitting on a concrete plinth.
This work has a quiet beauty that transcends time and space as it mixes new technology with a reflection on nature. The dynamic idea of the infinite (the sky) approaching the finite (the earth) is compelling.
One of the most beautiful works is “Perfect Lovers,” 1987-1990, (photo at top), by Félix González-Torres. It is about time and love, represented by two wall clocks that press against each other in perfect sync.
The artist conceived this work shortly after his partner was diagnosed with AIDS. Its contemplation of love, sense of inevitability, and awareness of the preciousness of time gives it a power that is unparalleled in this exhibition.
Dario Robleto’s “Love Before There was Love,” 2018, consists of two vitrines sitting side by side. Each is a 3D print, in brushed stainless steel, of the earliest recorded waveforms of blood flowing through the heart before and after an emotional state. The vitrines and small scale present the forms as abstractions of something that is technically real. This visualization of the blood flowing to the heart is a striking sculptural moment.
Robleto’s “Time Measures Nothing But This is Love,” 2008, is an open cabinet containing glass beakers that resemble hourglasses placed on their sides, thus creating the symbol for infinity. Each is filled with stretched audiotape of field recordings of the world’s oldest married couple (married for 80 years), the earliest recording of time (an experimental clock from 1878), plant residues of ground rosebuds and rosehips. Is time what ties us to love?
Carrie Mae Weems’ signature work, The Kitchen Table Series, 1990, is included in this exhibition. Comprised of 20 platinum prints and 14 letter press texts, the intimate scene photographed by Weems is a narrative tableau of a woman at her kitchen table. It reveals relationships with friends and family that are filled with tenderness. The expressiveness of the photographs and the perspective of the kitchen table have the weight and presence of great paintings such as Renaissance and Baroque depictions of “The Supper of Emmaus” in their mise en scène.
Akram Zaatari’s “Tomorrow Everything Will Be Alright,” 2010, is a single-channel video in which we see and hear the typing of a conversation between two men separated by war who express their desire to meet again. It is a dialogue of longing with a degree of humor deriving from the use of an old technology, the manual typewriter, in the manner of text messaging. It is a beautifully shot, quiet image. Now, as so many have been separated by the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, this work acquires additional pathos. Love is indeed “what the world needs now.”
Michelle Stuart, one of the pioneers of land art, is represented by In the Beginning: Time and Dark Matter, 2016-2020, composed of 88 (double infinity) archival pigment photos arranged in a large grid behind a table upon which sits a collection of shells and fossils. This work reflects on the viewer’s relationship to the universe, the limitless expanse of the cosmos. We are but specks in this universe, and this poetic installation is a site for contemplation of this idea.
In the last gallery of the exhibition is a work by the French-Egyptian artist Ghada Amer, “The Words I Love the Most,” 2012, a black patinaed globe composed of words in Arabic linked to the idea of love such as “crazy” and “desire” which can be read only from the inside of the globe. The words are taboo in her culture even though there are 100 words to express love.
This is just a small sampling of what awaits the viewer of What Is left Unspoken, Love. Noted works by Kerry James Marshall, Rina Banerjee, Susanna Coffey, Gabriel Rico, General Idea and Wangechi Mutu also may find a way into your heart, as they did mine.
Deanna Sirlin is an artist and writer. She is known internationally for large-scale installations that have covered the sides of buildings from Atlanta to Venice, Italy. Her book, She’s Got What It Takes: American Women Artists in Dialogue, (2013) is a critical yet intimate look at the lives and work of nine noted American women artists who have been personally important to Sirlin.