The biography of artist Robert Irwin (by Lawrence Weschler) is called: Seeing Is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees. I made it three quarters of the way through, but figure digesting the title makes up for reading the whole thing. In the book, Weschler sites an essay that breaks down this art-speak with more art-speak, but you get the idea: “What stays in the museum is only the art-object, not valueless, but not the value of art. The art is what has happened to the viewer.”
Last Saturday, I walked through seven floors of the New Museum Triennial: Surround Audience—an exhibition exploring the effects of an increasingly connected world. This is some of what happened to me.
The elevator doors open to a big breath of a room. The first thing I see: a square plate of glass rolled with white paint encased in an iron frame. The room has several of these structures, but most are without glass—metal frames which jut out from the walls and floor, creating colorful empty shapes that I step in and out of. After stepping through the third frame I’m steadying myself like a mime act (so much art going on here).
In the far corner, thick strips of clear, patterned plastic fall from the ceiling like an overgrown shower curtain. Behind it, three pairs of (porcelain?) hands reach out from the wall. To my left, a projector splashes morphing anime on the wall to classical music. How did we forget funhouses?
On the floor below, what looks like a fish tank is glowing blue at the end of a dark hall. The letter E and number 3 face each other, coral covered bodies serene in their watery tomb. I read the plaque, which mentions a reincarnation for the symbol of empathy, but am more interested in a little boy circling the tank—his hair creating an anemone-shaped shadow that darts across the glass case.
People have their cameras poised patiently as the boy follows floating particles of coral, face lit up in blue. He drags his dad by the hand, jumping and pointing, saying, “Can you see that? Can you see that?” The work should be re-named “Experience as a verb. No photographs allowed.”
You know that spot in your childhood lounge which always got the light? Right by the window, maybe the glass door. Where you’d push over the warm body of your cat, lie down and close your eyes. Come to the New Museum on a sunny day, ride up to the seventh floor, and let happiness happen to you.
OKREAL and the New Museum want you to experience the Triennial with a friend. Print or present this pass on your phone at the door, and get a friend in for free. Valid until April 30. See newmuseum.org for tickets and hours of operation.
José León Cerrillo
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