The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH) currently has a temporary installation up that belongs to their permanent collection. The Penetrable, 2004-2014, is a large installation by Jesus Rafael Soto, born in Venezuela, that was actually designed about 10 years ago, and finally realized this year. He passed away shortly after designing this installation. This required a collaboration with Atelier Soto, Paris, to create such a massive project without the artist.
Not familiar with the work of Soto, there is much information on him available in the museum and online. He is considered a pioneer of the kinetic art movement and is internationally recognized in Europe and Asia for his work, but not in the US. Creating only 25-30 Penetrables in his lifetime, this is the largest and only site specific installation, created for the museum’s Cullinan Hall, a large open mezzanine. The 1st Penetrable was created in 1967, however, many no longer exist because they were only temporary installations. This specific piece is composed of 24,000 plastic tubes weighing 7.5 tons with the hanging system, it is 28′ high and suspended from a reinforced ceiling. This piece also required that each tube be hand painted to exact measurements to create the perfect ellipse, making it also the 1st Penetrable to have an “image” included, and not be monochromatic.
The most obvious difference from the normal museum experience is that you are encouraged to touch the work. It becomes kinetic and is completed by the participation of the viewer. Soto created his pieces to enjoy by being able to move through and be touched and pulled. Children are encouraged to participate as well. When I arrive, there are plenty of people already immersed in the piece with several children running around. The tubes are soft and flexible, moving with me as I walk through the installation. Even with lots of people there, due to the scale, it was easy to still be alone for a little bit. At 2600 sf, this piece is actually larger than my entire house (1450 sf), so there is plenty of room to explore and feel some solitude. It actually feels endless, that I will never come out and walk through the tubes forever, in a forest of plastic. I have never had an art experience like this, something I was fully immersed in, almost part of it. I suppose I was, by activating the space, I became part of the installation. Artwork that involves the viewer is always an original experience, which is why I think it is important to travel to see art in person. Contemporary art in particular, is a genre that requires the participation of the viewer to complete the piece, whether by thoughts or action.
“For Soto, space was a perceptual field that had to be experienced, not just with the eyes but with the entire body and senses. He designed the Penetrable to make viewers more cognizant of their spatial surroundings, imagining the work as scalable and situated to both indoor and outdoor settings.”
It is the 2nd large scale installation commissioned in Houston that became the final projects of the artists that I am aware of. The other is the Dan Flavin installation at Richmond Hall commissioned by the Menil, According to their website, ” Just two days before his death in November 1996 Flavin completed the design for the space.” Completed by Flavin’s studio, it is a beautiful, large scale installation taking over the entire front hall. I have visited this building many times, writing about my previous experiences.
Designer Carolina Herrera’s line for NYFW (New York Fashion Week) 2014 was inspired by the kinetic art of Jesus Raphael Soto and Carlos Cruz-Diez. Watch the collection go down the runway in action here. I definitely see the inspiration of both of these artists. Many patterns remind me of the work of Cruz-Diez, but the clothing mostly seems to be inspired by the fact that the work of both artists must be completed by the viewer, from visual participation to actually entering the work, as in Penetrable. The design of the clothing is only complete once it is worn and actively moving. The movement in the clothing is visually beautiful to watch. Coincidentally, the MFAH also showcased the work of Cruz-Diez: Color in Space and Time in 2011, which I was able to experience for myself. His work requires the participation to view the work from different angles, otherwise you will never see the complete work. It was engaging and visually stimulating, being full of movement. This is a great video tour of the exhibition, giving you the experience of how to view a Cruz-Diez, something a static photo cannot do.
On the second floor of the museum Europe 1900-1975 Selections from the Museum’s Collection is being exhibited. I am able to see work from recognized masters that I always appreciate viewing. This included Pablo Picasso, which I had the pleasure of viewing Picasso: Black and White at the MFAH last year, Joan Miro, Anselm Kiefer, Henri Matisse, and Georg Baselitz,
whom I also viewed a solo exhibition in New York a few years ago. This just names just a few of the incredible artists on display here, but they all offer inspiration when it come to pushing boundaries, which is something that refreshes my art sensibilities.
Since I really enjoy art using light, of course I went to see the work of James Turrell as part of a unique retrospective that is consecutively taking place in three different locations. The largest installation is at the Guggenheim in New York. I also read an article about the installations at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). Much closer to home, I went to the part taking place at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH). As the press was coming out, I kept reading about the installations at the Guggenheim and LACMA, but nothing about Houston. The star piece of the entire exhibition is the light piece that takes over the main rotunda at the Guggenheim. The images of it look amazing, and I know photos never give light installations justice. Since I couldn’t find much on Houston, I really didn’t know what to expect. I greatly admire and draw inspiration from experiencing contemporary art. The concepts and contemplation that it takes to create some of these pieces amazes me. Contemporary art fascinates me because it challenges preconceived notions in an intellectual way. I enjoy thinking about an art piece and seeing an idea in a new way. Large installations, light pieces, and sculptures are some of my favorite medias to experience. Another light artist I have been following is Dan Flavin. I have seen some of his large installations in Marfa and in Houston.
I have always been amazed at the permanent installation there by Turrell, The Light Inside, 1999, which I briefly wrote about when I was at the MFAH last, in March. This piece takes over a long underground hallway connecting two buildings. The tunnel is composed of a walkway maybe just a foot off the ground. On either side of the walkway is a few feet to the wall, in a light wash of color. However, the way the light is presented makes it seem endless, like an abyss. The more you focus on the environment, the more the illusion takes over. I get a little distorted, it feels like I would fall forever. Art21 did a great interview with Turrell that focuses on The Light Inside in Houston and the Roden Crater in Flagstaff, Arizona. The volcano has been his most ambitious project that he has been working on since the 70’s.
Hands down, my favorite installation here is the Ganzfeld, the only piece in this exhibit that you can actually walk into. No photos, of course. It is meant to simulate a white out, something that occurs during blizzard, where there is no perception of the space. Experiencing this condition for an extended amount of time has been known to cause hallucinations. This was created with curved walls, making the room seem endless. There are people inside to keep you from going over the “edge”. As with the other pieces, the lights are completely hidden, just casting a glow of slowly changing colors. LACMA has a Perceptual Cell that costs an additional $45 entry fee and requires a waiver be signed before entering. That specific piece really may cause hallucinations, being in an isolated cell, just the experience of light.
What is amazing about experiencing work by Turrell is the illusion that is created in the space. He creates an environment, many of his pieces require their own room. Some pieces seemed to occupy both negative and positive space at the same time. This was particularly true of the wall cut outs. The light seemed to be cubes floating in the air, or breaking up the floor. The entire time seeming to fluctuate between a physical object in front of you, and a recessed object within the wall.
Going a few blocks away from the MFAH, we walk onto the Rice University Campus. They have an outdoor permanent installation, Twilight Epiphany, 2012, that sits upon a hill. However, it is actually a man made area, the grass is actually camouflaging the interior seating for the piece. There are two levels to sit on. The bottom space is made of marble seating, with tall slanted backs, on the inside of the cube like installation. The upstairs has the same type of seating but made of concrete, also slanted for you to be at an angle looking upwards. The upstairs chairs are on the outside of the open cube, so both levels can view above. The entire structure is covered by a flat roof, with a cut out facing the sky. This is where the art takes place. Even before the sunset show began, you can begin to see how the piece subtly changes, with the use of both natural and artificial light. I have seen the sunset many times, sometimes able to stop and view this beautiful natural occurrence. But this particular piece utilizes color theory to create or isolate colors. A forty minute light “show” unfolds as the sun sets. The staff requests silence and no photos. As in the main exhibit, outside light will affect the piece. It was a very meditative experience. The sky changed through many different colors – light blue, teal, gray, black, a brilliant colbalt blue. While the light is progressively getting darker, Turrell then uses the artificial lights projecting onto the roof, bringing the colors from light to dark, and back to light again. It was a very interesting experience and experiment. This show also takes place at sunrise. I think I will have to experience that as well, at some point.
A statement was made by the Guggenheim stating the large installation piece in the Rotunda is not a Skyspace, as at Rice. The specific difference is a Skyspace has an opening to the outside, while the Guggenheim’s opening is covered in glass.
Leaving Houston, in the paper was a story about a woman in Florida that realized she had a Turrell in her home and had been using it for storage. Disappointing, the new owner is trying to sell the piece. The bottom of the article has a nice slide show of a few Turrell pieces.
Yes, I am currently dreaming of seeing the Guggenheim exhibit. Unfortunately, there is no way I could make that happen by the closing September 25. It would be amazing if I could make a trip for my birthday on September 23….but that will not happen with my current work schedule and financial situation. However, the show in Los Angeles runs through April 6, 2014. There is a possibility I could make it there before the closing. And save an additional $45 for the Perception Cell. Yes, I would. I already would like to visit this exhibit at the MFAH again before it comes down. I will definitely also be revisiting Twilight Epiphany at Rice, as it is a permanent installation. This exhibit really expanded my mind. The possibilities of what a media like light can create is endless and ever changing. Perceptions of color, space, and what is tangible where all pushed and questioned. I find that exhilarating and the entire reason why I continue to seek new experiences with art. Of course, my pictures do not do this exhibit justice. It is something to experience in person.