Art today is more about experience than ever before. Through the usage of space, and more specifically incorporating space into art, the experience an art viewer encounters today is debatably more elevated than of the traditional two-dimensional experiences of the past.
As coined a few years back, “immersive” exhibits – where the visitor is not only viewer but made to feel part of the work— swept the contemporary art world by storm. With these immersive exhibits came a lot of backlash around whether staring at a large projection while seated in a tree swing could be defined as art? (See image below from the Natura Obscura exhibit at the Museum of Outdoor Art in Englewood from January 2019).
|Thundercloud-like portion of the Natura Obscura immersive art exhibit at the Museum of Outdoor Art in Englewood on Jan. 9, 2019
Although I do not have a scholarly answer to this debate, I do think that the idea of art spreading outwards and taking up space has greatly impacted the way art is experienced by the masses – and potentially has been successful in drawing folks into the world of contemporary art.
Through the usage of space, greater sensations can be evoked so that the viewer feels a sense of proximity to the artist’s intention. For example, while in Paris, I visited the Palais de Tokyo’s exhibition ’ON AIR live with…’: Arachnosophy. In this exhibition, music, science and nature came together to provide an overwhelmingly dramatic and spooky display of spiderwebs (yes, they were real, and yes, the spiders were still in the room spinning more webs). Through this literally sensational display, a character often viewed as banal and kill-worthy (the spider) is transformed into an artist capable of transforming space into beauty – this exhibition, through the usage of space, was able to shift perspectives and leave a permanent impact on viewers (spiders are beautiful).
On a different note, the Met Gala’s 2019 exhibition CAMP: Notes on Fashion stirred up a ton of buzz because of its usage of space to elevate the exhibition from a quick viewing to an experience. With electric colors and displays not only on the exterior walls but in the middle of the room or suspended from the ceiling, the visitors felt as though they had journeyed in time to the extravagance that is embodied within Susan Sontag’s 1964 essay “Notes on Camp.”
Although these exhibitions are no longer on display, there is a certain ephemeral elegance to spaces that evoke sensation beyond viewing. Even today, I still can remember the way I felt walking through these two exhibitions because of the genius usage of contemporary art within a fixed space.
To bring this all home, the Nasher’s upcoming February 27-July 12, 2020 exhibition Ebony G. Patterson… while the dew is still on the roses… is a large installation taking over the usually perfectly painting and presented walls and ceilings. Evoking a night garden, previous viewers have stated that they “still remember the experience today, even as the details of the art has slowly faded away.”
|Ebony G. Patterson ... while the dew is still on the roses ...
The ability to use art to evoke sensation is truly powerful. The reason why I think that the usage of space for contemporary art is so important (whether that be immersive art or simply placing pieces in the middle of the room) is because it demystifies contemporary art. Oftentimes those who don’t study art (and even myself included) can become rigid towards contemporary art because it’s too abstract and perceived to have one specific yet aloof underlying meaning. By bringing that art into the realm of the viewer (the viewer’s “space”), that rigidness is broken down and the viewer can become engulfed by their interpretation of what lays before them.
“CAMP Notes on Fashion.” Metmuseum.org, 2019, www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/listings/2019/camp-notes-on-fashion.
Schwab, Katharine. “Art for Instagram's Sake.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 14 Mar. 2016, www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2016/02/instagram-art-wonder-renwick-rain-room/463173/.
“‘ON AIR Live with..." : Arachnosophy.” Palais De Tokyo EN, 14 Dec. 2018, www.palaisdetokyo.com/en/event/voices-collide-day-arachnosophy.