Show Asks Whether Time Is Running Out

By Mohammad T. Khan
 A photo from A Collaboration with Time-Deterioration series, by Robert Farber. Photo courtesy of Hexton Gallery.

A photo from A Collaboration with Time-Deterioration series, by Robert Farber. Photo courtesy of Hexton Gallery.

The exhibition “Tick Tock: Time in Contemporary Arts”, which opened at the Lehman College Art Gallery on Feb. 20, 2018, shows time from the perspective of different artists within multiple genres from the mid-nineteenth century to today. The exhibition presents a range of media, including oil-on-canvas, sculpture, photography, video, mixed construction and installations. The artists’ representations of the importance of time in our daily lives and even in our dreams provide the exhibition’s overarching theme. The show’s quality is inconsistent, especially because some of the work is controversial or experimental. Some of the pieces, such as “Sunday Afternoon,” by John Carlin and “blow up 273 -the long goodbye” by Kysa Johnson, were evocative, but many were unstimulating, such as Laurie Simmons, “Walking Pocket Watch II.” 

Two artists from the nineteenth century show how the experience of time changes as a person grows older. In “Boy with a Clock,” oil on panel, Carl Haag shows how a child experiences time. A little boy plays with a clock undisturbed by time constraints. In “Sunday Afternoon,” using oil on canvas, John Carlin depicts how the passage of time differs for three individuals. Through a scene from a rustic family’s everyday life, the picture shows how time progresses for people in different life stages. The young boy playing outside seems to be enjoying his time. For him time is going by slowly. The viewer gets an impression that for the woman in the house time in the moment is precious, because she is lost in a book. The old man in the home looks like his time went by too quickly. He is looking away from his family, perhaps reflecting on his past and his body language shows that he is not engaged in the present. Both artists have used an accessible representational style of painting typical of its time to show how time is experienced in our lives.  

The artist Robert Farber’s work shows that a person’s beauty fades over time. His “A Collaboration with Time-Deterioration Series” are two deteriorated archived fashion photographs of models from 1980 and 1981. The two photos smudged very badly as the photos deteriorated naturally over time.   At one time, the pictures probably looked nice. The picture in 1981 looks more attractive than the one in 1980. It looks very bright. The picture in 1980 looks hideous because, due to the photo’s deterioration, the woman’s face looks like a monster from a horror movie. This photo also looks darker than the one in 1981. Both, however, show that glamour and beauty, like the medium Farber used, are defenseless against time. 

Other artists explore the idea that time should not be wasted. Mary Engel has made a sculpture of a dog composed of watches, wire, mesh, and fabric in “Sleeping Watch Dog.” The dog seems to be relaxing, wasting its time by not doing its guard duty. Alexandra Forsyth Martinez has formed an open hand-blown hourglass out of white sand in the “First Instance (The Beginning).” The sand at the bottom of the hourglass demonstrates that time has run out. Its two companion pieces show an unexpected progression. In “Second Instance (The Middle)” and “Third Instance (The End).” Martinez adds black sand — using ashes — inviting us to reflect about time running out. The three hourglasses lead us to contemplate time itself differently and whether everything should be done before the deadline, considering we all become ashes in the end. Steven Spazuk’s “Ticking Bomb,” and “Stopping Time,” are made of soot on paper mounted on panel. “Stopping Time” shows an object sitting on the clock’s hands that causes time to stand still. “Ticking Bomb” conveys how important time is when a bomb is set to blow up, but also serves as a metaphor for time running out. This art is all highly conceptual. Their representations of time are confusing but thought provoking.

Each piece has its own unique way of commenting on time, and attempting to capture how each of us has a meaningful relationship to time. However, the exhibition did not address some concepts of time, such as prioritizing time management. Despite a few unimpressive pieces, this exhibition is likely to please most patrons, who are sure to enjoy the diversity of the art and the representations of time.