LIFESTYLE Master (time)pieces : 5 iconic pieces of art with clocks at their core

Join us for a ‘Clock-Wise’ turn through the Art world, proving that time – and its symbols – have fascinated not just the scientist and the watchmaker, but the poet and the painter since time immemorial.

Join us for a ‘Clock-Wise’ turn through the Art world, proving that time – and its symbols – have fascinated not just the scientist and the watchmaker, but the poet and the painter since time immemorial. Check out these seven stunning works that question our relationship to the passage of hours, minutes, and years in mysterious, beautiful, and ironic ways. From Dali’s famous melting clocks to Maya Lin’s innovative eclipse ‘timer’, these masterpieces prove that this relationship is as personal and varied as any other.

Self-Portrait. Between the Clock and the Bed, Edvard Munch 1940-1943.

Self-Portrait. Between the Clock and the Bed, Edvard Munch, 1940-1943. Oil on canvas.

Norwegian artist Edvard Munch (1864-1944, of ‘The Scream’ fame), gained recognition quite early in his career for often-haunting depictions of unease, anxiety, and alienation. One of Munch’s last major works, ‘Self-Portrait. Between the Clock and the Bed’ is a late addition to the artist’s series of self-portraits throughout his life. It shows an exquisite use of contrasting colour, with warm bright tones set against a melancholy blue-green palette. Munch’s body is poised between the domineering clock and geometric-patterned bed, with a brightly-lit, lively looking space behind him.

Eclipsed Time, Maya Lin, 1994. (courtesy MTA Arts & Design)

Eclipsed Time Maya Lin,1994. Sandblasted glass, aluminum and digital typesetting.

This ingenious concept-sculpture was installed in the ceiling of Penn Station Long Island Railroad concourse in 1994. The American sculptor Maya Lin is best known for the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C.  Eclipsed Time is a conceptual clock that tells time via the movement of light: an aluminum disk moves between a sandblasted glass disk and the light source, creating shadows. The shadow intersects with notches indicating the hours and quarters of the hour marked on the glass, giving an approximate time. At noon the entire piece of glass is visible with no shadows, and at midnight it’s completely covered – with only light on the edges visible. A symbolic ‘eclipse’. A nearby plaque reads “Eclipsed Time is not intended to keep precise chronographic time. Do not set your watch by it.” Instead, it evokes an earlier era, when time was measured by the movement of light.

"Untitled" (Perfect Lovers), 1987-1990. Image courtesy of Jay Gorney Modern Art.

Untitled (Perfect Lovers) Félix González-Torres, 1987-1991. Two identical synchronized clocks.

An ambiguous work of art, often interpreted as an evocation of mortality as it exists between lovers; Torres’ partner contracted AIDS, which at the time of his diagnosis was little understood, difficult to treat, and often fatal. One of Torres’ most famous works Untitled (Perfect Lovers) has inspired many homages from other artists, and appeared in exhibitions all over the world. The clocks, visually identical, are at first synchronized perfectly; gradually, over time, they fall out of sync. Torres’ own words offer an eloquent interpretation: “Don’t be afraid of the clocks, they are our time, the time has been so generous to us…. We conquered fate by meeting at a certain time in a certain space. We are a product of time, therefore we give back credit where it is due: time. We are synchronized, now, forever. I love you.”

The Persistence of Memory, Salvador Dalí, 1931.

The Persistence of Memory Salvador Dali 1931. Oil on canvas, bronze.

In this Surrealist dreamscape, solid objects become limp, even liquid.  Mastering what he called “the usual paralyzing tricks of eye-fooling,” Dalí aimed, in his own words, “to discredit completely the world of reality.” The only mark left by the unpopular ‘real world’ are the distant golden cliffs of the Catalonian coast, Dalí’s home. The artist chose to depict what he jokingly called “the camembert of time”; a melted-cheese-universe where a traditional sense of time loses all its meaning. The bizarre shape dangling across the painting’s center is both strange and familiar: a distorted representation of Dalí’s own profile.

Woman and Clock, Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010), 1994.

Woman and Clock, Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010), 1994. Drypoint and aquatint on paper.

Woman and Clock is part of a collection of drypoint etchings titled Autobiographical Series. The artist reaches up to open the face and move the hands on a grandfather clock, evoking a desire to shift or control the passage of time; perhaps even the biological cycles so pronounced in the experience of life as a (cis-gendered) woman.  An artist famously inspired by memory, a central theme of Bourgeois’ work is the recounting of her early years.  As she said, ‘some of us are so obsessed with the past that we die of it…. it’s really the situation of artists who work for a reason that nobody can quite grasp. The past for certain people has such a hold and such a beauty.’