Rubin Museum of Art
150 West 17th St. at Seventh Ave.
Wednesday - Monday through February 2, $10-$15 (free Fridays 6:00 - 10:00)
Over the last four decades, Italian artist Francesco Clemente has spent a significant amount of time living in India, collaborating with local artists and artisans to create works that explore the culture in unique ways. A small sampling of these works is now on view at the Rubin Museum in “Francesco Clemente: Inspired by India.” Consisting of four large-scale paintings from 1980 and one from 1985, two watercolor series from 1989 and 2012-13, and a quartet of corner sculptures made specifically for this show, the exhibit is set up to evoke an Indian temple. “Building on the plan, orientation, and personality of the Rubin Museum gallery — and corresponding loosely to the concept of vastu (sacred proportion) in ancient Indian texts known as shastras — the exhibition was designed to reflect metaphorically the experience of visiting an Indian temple,” curator Beth Citron writes in the catalog. “Building a dialogue between the architecture of the gallery and the art within it also speaks to Clemente’s great sensitivity to environment and his deep understanding of Indian visual, material, and spiritual cultures.” The 1980 works, composed of gouache on sheets of handmade Pondicherry paper joined with handwoven cotton strips, include the powerful “Moon,” in which a nude man is being dragged away from (or perhaps into) a swirling moon by a rock tied around his neck, and “Hunger,” in which a man is taking a bite out of an Ouroboros, a snake devouring itself in a circle. The recent series “Sixteen Amulets for the Road” features depictions of men in chains, clocks showing different times, twisted ladders reaching toward the sky, and birds surrounded by graphic arrows, with one unlucky creature pierced by one of the sharp symbols. Most impressive is “The Black Book,” sixteen intensely beautiful, small, dark watercolors of men and women in the midst of heated passion; the longer you look at them, the more you can make out what is going on in these otherwise abstract images. The sculptures have similar names as the paintings — “Moon,” “Earth,” “Sun,” “Hunger” — each one set on a makeshift bamboo pedestal, at the top such repurposed objects as a vase, a suitcase, a mystery box, and a flag with quotations from Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle on either side.
But it’s the related programming that takes this exhibition to another level. For “Clemente x 8,” the artist will engage in onstage conversations with multimedia performer Patti Smith (October 1), theater innovator Robert Lepage (October 5), hip-hop star Nas (October 7), Tibetan monk Gelek Rimpoche (October 8), chef Eric Ripert (October 22), architect Billie Tsien (October 29), Sopranos creator David Chase (November 5), and writer-director Alfonso Cuarón (November 9); all tickets are $45 and include admission to the exhibition before and after the talk. In addition, Clemente has selected the films for the museum’s Friday-night Cabaret Cinema series; “My Formative Years” consists of ten works introduced by special guests, pairing Stella Schnabel with Luis Buñuel’s Viridiana, daughter Chiara Clemente with Bernardo Bertolucci’s Before the Revolution, Philip Glass with Conrad Rooks’s Chappaqua, Neil LaBute with Peter Fonda’s The Hired Hand, and Karole Armitage with Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, among other screenings through December 5. (Admission is free with a minimum $10 purchase in the K2 Lounge.) And finally, exhibition curator Citron will speak with contemporary artists on select Friday nights at 6:15; the impressive “Artists on Art” lineup boasts Fred Tomaselli on September 26, Julian Schnabel on October 3, Philip Taaffe on October 17, Sandeep Mukherjee on October 24, David Salle on November 7, Terry Winters on November 14, and Swoon on November 21. (Free tickets are distributed beginning at 5:45.)