How do artists evoke and transform time in their work? Can a work of contemporary art be timeless? How does contemporary art relate to art of the ancient past, to nature, and to the rhythms of the life? The “Art in the Twenty-First Century” documentary “Time” explores these questions through the work of Martin Puryear, Paul Pfeiffer, Vija Celmins, and Tim Hawkinson.
Martin Puryear is a sculptor whose minimalist works incorporate a range of materials. Puryear’s objects and public installations – in wood, stone, tar, wire, and various metals – are a marriage of minimalist logic with traditional ways of making. In “Ladder for Booker T. Washington,” Puryear built a spindly, meandering ladder out of jointed ash wood. More than thirty-five-feet tall, the ladder narrows toward the top, creating a distorted sense of perspective that evokes an unattainable or illusionary goal.
Paul Pfeiffer’s groundbreaking work in video, sculpture, and photography uses recent computer technologies to dissect the role that mass media plays in shaping consciousness. In a series of video works focused on professional sports events – including basketball, boxing, and hockey – Pfeiffer digitally removes the bodies of the players from the games, shifting the viewer’s focus to the spectators, sports equipment, or trophies won. These intimate and idealized video works are meditations on faith, desire, and a contemporary culture obsessed with celebrity.
Born in Latvia, but settling in the US from the age of ten, Vija Celmins received international attention early on for her renditions of natural scenes – often copied from photographs that lack a point of reference, horizon, or discernable depth of field. Armed with a nuanced palette of blacks and grays, Celmins renders these limitless spaces – seascapes, night skies, and the barren desert floor – with an uncanny accuracy, working for months on a single image.
Tim Hawkinson is renowned for creating complex sculptural systems through surprisingly simple means. His installation, “Überorgan” – a stadium-size, fully automated bagpipe – was pieced together from bits of electrical hardware and several miles of inflated plastic sheeting. Hawkinson’s fascination with music and notation can also be seen in “Pentecost,” a work in which the artist tuned cardboard tubes and assembled them in the shape of a giant tree. On this tree, the artist placed twelve life-size robotic replicas of himself, and programmed them to beat out religious hymns at humorously irregular intervals.
Art 21: Art in the 21st Century is an award-winning series of 24 programmes in which 100 contemporary artists explain their creative processes, and their perceptions of art. Available for the first time on DVD in the UK, Art21 covers a wide range of artists and contemporary art.