Lella, Brittany, 1948
Gelatin silver print
C. Edouard Boubat
la mère la mer
McEvoy Foundation for the Arts, San Francisco
Oct. 28, 2017–Jan 13, 2018
Acrylic on paper
15 x 21 inches
Courtesy Fredericks & Freiser, New York
la mère la mer
la mère la mer is, yes, a show about “the mother the sea,” that ancient, archetypal, omni-cultural, allegory of human life (and death). In Greek mythology, Thetis comes from the sea to comfort her son Achilles, and Hades lies “beyond the sea.” If you prefer the biological to the mythological, consider Rachel Carson from The Sea Around Us (1952), who points out that we all have in our bodies a part of the sea: “each of us carries in our veins a salty stream in which the elements sodium, potassium, and calcium are combined in almost the same proportions as in sea water.” la mère la mer is an origins show, to be sure.
But it is also a show about the two things, the mother and the sea, and you will note lots of appearances of mothers and seas—sometimes together, sometimes not—sunning and crashing, swimming and glimmering, and doing lots of things much more mundane than spawning life and allegorizing all forms of existence. The mothers here are sometimes only sunbathers and the sea but a languorous vision.
And then there is a specific mother, Nan McEvoy, and a specific origin, her art collection, not to mention her son, and his art collection, which forms the true basis of this exhibition, the originalMcEvoy Foundation for the Arts exhibition. La mère is present throughout the galleries in the great Homers, Diebenkorns, and Thiebauds that Nan collected, as is la mer, in those works and in the Wesleys, Colliers, and Kjartanssons that Nion has brought in. The mother is both subject and object and the sea is everywhere.
Let’s not forget dada—no, not the father, but dada the absurdist, pan-historical, meta-art sensibility that attempts to flip matters on their head. The mother and the sea, in our pleasant mantra-like premise, don’t quite settle. They’re like a collage of playful mismatched elements, a funny picture with gaps, a bag of Scrabble letters awaiting sense. They are, inevitably, like the works forming an art collection—exacerbated further by two collections—a sometimes incoherent, oftentimes poetic, occasionally gratifying arrangement of meaningful objects. Don’t look for sense and you might just find it, or something like that.
Follow the currents and you will encounter dreamers, dream states, stateship, ships tossed at sea, blue rectangles, blue squares, question marks, good postures, negative spaces, knees, wrinkles, ripples…you get the drift. Consciousness is making connections, visual, verbal, ideological, venal, metaphysical. A collection of artworks by different artists will attempt the same. Well, the collection doesn’t attempt it, we the assemblers and the viewers do. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But one thing we can all surely agree is true: smooth seas don’t make good sailors.