The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA), presents One Day at a Time: Manny Farber and Termite Art, an ambitious exhibition inspired by American painter and film critic Manny Farber and his legendary underground essay “White Elephant Art vs. Termite Art” (1962). The exhibition is organized by Helen Molesworth and features approximately thirty artists and more than one hundred carefully selected works of painting, sculpture, photography, film, video, and sound dating from the 1950s to the present. One Day at a Time is conceived as a cross between a monographic exhibition and a group show—an experiment in exhibition-making in the spirit of Farber’s call for “termite art.”
Originally appearing in Film Culture magazine, “White Elephant Art vs. Termite Art” was written as a screed against the idea of the masterpiece and works of art produced by “overripe technique shrieking with preciosity, fame, ambition.” Farber championed art that was committed to observation, deep attention, and the unique temporalities of the quotidian. In his words, termite art was produced through the act of “both observing and being in the world, a journeying in which the artist seems to be ingesting both the material of his art and the outside world through horizontal coverage.” One Day at a Time uses Farber’s idea of termite art as a methodology for assembling the contemporary works of disparate artists as a means to think about time in its many dimensions, from the daily to the cosmological. The genre of still life plays an important role in this endeavor. Long the area of Western painting in which the passage of time—and the implications of that passing in both ethical and natural terms—has been explored, still life remains a form that exemplifies Farber’s commitment, both as a writer and a painter, to the daily, the modest, and the space in between things. Farber’s eye-level perspective on the subtle connections that undergird the stuff of daily life provides One Day at a Time with its structure: the hybrid approach of the exhibition is itself an outgrowth of Farber’s horizontal viewpoint. It begins with a group of Farber’s idiosyncratic still-life paintings and works on paper from the late 1970s and 1980s, then fans out from this monographic presentation to explore the ways other artists have dedicated themselves to the pursuit of the everyday. The rooms of the exhibition are envisioned as small galaxies, each orbiting around a work by Farber and bound by the gravitational pull of artists “observing and being in the world.” The manifestations of this simultaneous immersion in and reckoning with the world are both distinct and interrelated. The artists gathered in One Day at a Time immerse themselves in the natural world and record the details of daily life. In so doing, they reorder the priorities of our culture away from fame, celebrity, grandiosity, and money and instead present the detailed, the minor, and the overlooked as a way to better connect with the realm of the everyday, offered here as the space of ethics and love.
Fischli & Weiss
Sylvia Plimack Mangold