Joseph Cornell, Hotel de la Mer (Hotel Goldene Sonne), 1950–51, wood, glass, pigment, paper, 17 7/8 x 12 x 4 5/8". From “In Search of Time.”

Joseph Cornell, Hotel de la Mer (Hotel Goldene Sonne), 1950–51, wood, glass, pigment, paper, 17 7/8 x 12 x 4 5/8". From “In Search of Time.”

“In Search of Time”

Joseph Cornell, Hotel de la Mer (Hotel Goldene Sonne), 1950–51, wood, glass, pigment, paper, 17 7/8 x 12 x 4 5/8". From “In Search of Time.”

With ribbed sides flaring like the gills of some steely fish, Zaha Hadid’s new building for the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University does anything but rest on its Grand River Avenue plot. This importunate assembly of angles pitches, soars, lurches, shifts—refusing the fixity of any formal envelope or elevation, even as it sits within a taut, stainless-steel skin. Following from the kineticism of Hadid’s structure, the museum’s inaugural exhibition, “In Search of Time,” organized by curator and founding director Michael Rush, likewise shrugged off the surrounding staid Collegiate Gothic campus in pursuit of more dynamic temporalities. The show presented, however, a nuanced meditation on the textures of time in painting and photography, one that slowed the viewer down in a thickened field of interconnected eras and epochs.

The show—drawn predominantly from the museum’s study collection and from the holdings of its umbrella institution, the Broad Foundations—set into play works ranging from a Renaissance Crucifixion panel up to contemporary experiments, threaded by themes of melancholy and memory. Many of the artworks shown bear the pulp of reminiscence on their surfaces, among them Anselm Kiefer’s gritty, battered Für René Char, 1988. A treated lead support, which is by turns shimmering and coarse, bears a photographic snippet of flames alongside the words WORT GEWITTER EIS UND BLUT (word storm ice and blood), inscribed in homage to the titluar French poet and hero of the Resistance. By contrast, Ed Ruscha’s acrylic canvas Strong, Healthy, 1987, suggests a deficit of memory or recollection in its cool, generic anonymity. Two nearly identical houses appear in monochrome, a block of white devoid of any information standing in for text that might otherwise anchor their locale.

From Romantic melancholy to experimental positivism, the poles of nineteenth-century affect find due representatives in E. Rieck’s oil-on-canvas moonlit nocturne from 1856, and Eadweard Muybridge’s Animal Locomotion collotypes (Descending stairs, turning, cup and saucer in right hand, 1887). But it is perhaps the felicitous echoes across centuries that render the exhibition particularly poignant. A mesmerizing field of nacreous butterfly wings lacquered with ordinary gloss, Damien Hirst’s Kingdom of the Father, 2007, makes a monumental, gothic triptych of its specimens. Recalling in equal measure Joseph Stella’s Futurist geometries, Gilbert & George’s outsize symmetries, and stained-glass windows, the panels were set opposite Paolo di Giovanni Fei’s circa 1400 Crucifixion triptych, evincing not only the philistinism of Hirst’s work but also its unlikely pieties.

Installed at a right angle to one of Hadid’s improbably inclined walls, Joseph Cornell’s 1950–51 assemblage Hotel de la Mer (Hotel Goldene Sonne) features a cage-like box containing a reproduction of Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring. Across the gallery hung Sam Jury’s Nothing Is Lost 002, 2010, a haunting composite portrait made up of thousands of source images of young women’s faces, projected onto a blank sculpted head and captured—after digital manipulation—in photographic form. The aggregated anonymous female portraits converge to form a deceptively singular figure, whose abstracted gaze offered a striking foil to Vermeer’s no less enigmatic subject, fleeting even in her fixity.

Channeling his expertise in the field of new media, Rush also curated the accompanying exhibition “Global Groove,” featuring video work by a roster of artists ranging from Nam June Paik (from whose 1973 piece the show’s title is drawn) to Eve Sussman and Simon Lee, the latter represented by his spellbinding Seitenflügel (Side Wing), 2012. In addition to “In Search of Time” and “Global Groove” (as well as an installation of Marco Brambilla’s stereoscopic video collage Evolution [Megaplex], 2010), five specially commissioned pieces are set throughout the museum, most notably Nguyen Phuong Linh’s Boat, 2012, made of sea salt tightly packed into a wedge-like shape, and conjuring the graves of countless sea-bound refugees as much as any natural motif or the slab of marble it seems to resemble. These initial efforts establish a dynamic spectrum of aesthetic experiment that the Broad Art Museum is sure to explore with continued close attention.

Ara H. Merjian