Moby Dick

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The Great American Novel, Moby Dick, takes on new life at the exhibition of the same name currently showing at California College of the Arts’s Wattis Institute. The exhibition loosely traces the narrative of the epic (and episodic) tale with each of the three galleries dedicated to the story’s protagonists, Ishmeal, Ahab, and of course, the White Whale, Moby Dick. Thirty-three artists ranging from the established to emerging are exhibited, and a large number consist of specially commissioned works that reflect the artist’s own interpretation of the Herman Melville classic. Among the highlights are Marcel Broodthaers, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Buster Keaton, Richard Serra, Hiroshi Sugimoto, and even Orson Welles. A room-sized replica of the sperm whale has been executed by artist Andreas Slominski, and though a commissioned work (size, scale, and the dried, crumbling, clay material reveal this) Slominski’s interpretation of the harpoons which brought down the White Whale demonstrates his imaginative personal iteration of the novel’s denouement. Also of considerable interest is an eight-foot salt tower by Mexican artist Damian Ortega. Thick, crystal-white salt was rammed into a narrow, rectangular tower made of plywood. The wood was removed, leaving the salt tower to crumble to the gallery floor, an unplanned but satisfyingly rich effect.

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The exhibition lay-out is perhaps the most striking part about the show, and it alludes to an atmospheric environment—with walls painted a nautical navy blue and the works hung low at what curator, Jens Hoffman, calculates to be the difference in sea level between the port of New Bedford, Massachusetts and the water level at the exhibition’s home in San Francisco, California. A fully-loaded voyage through historic artifacts, fresh art works, and this classic American tale is an experience worth staying on board for. Moby Dick will be on display until December 12, 2009.

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