Suprasensorial

Special exhibition at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., through May 13.

This past weekend, Sean and I visited Washington, D.C., a relatively spur-of-the-moment trip inspired in part by Sean’s desire to see the new Art of Video Games exhibit at the American Art Museum. Frankly, we were both a bit disappointed in that exhibit, which was diverting enough but shallow and predictable.* Later, though, we visited another Smithsonian art museum on little more than a whim and were absolutely enchanted with the featured exhibit there.

The irony was that Suprasensorial is an exhibit of art explicitly described in the literature as “accessible,” rejecting the “exclusivity and elitism of the art world”—a philosophy that the Video Games curators no doubt had in mind as well. And yet Suprasensorial was far more compelling, beautiful and evocative and unusually emotional for abstract art. It was a reminder that accessible doesn’t necessarily indicate lowest-common-denominator work.** At its best, accessible describes something elemental, something universal, something worth aspiring to.

Suprasensorial features Latin American artists’ “experiments in light, color, and space,” deceptively simple, nonrepresentational works that invite you to immerse yourself in some fundamental way. Jesús Rafael Soto’s Blue Penetrable BBL, for example, is simply a dense field of dangling nylon strings—which would be unbearably tantalizing if you weren’t allowed to move through it. As you are allowed, even encouraged, to slide between the thousands of strings, Blue is irresistible. The light strings wave at the slightest touch, whispering as they bounce against each other and smoothly slide through your fingers and off your shoulders. It’s a marvelously tactile experience.

Another work, Julio Le Parc’s Light in Movement, projects two small spotlights against a mobile of polished metal squares inside a dark mirrored room. I fear that description makes it sound rather disco-like, but the effect is actually subtle and tender, not brash and gaudy. The installation creates a soft flickering light on all the walls of the room, reminding me of sunbeams refracted underwater.

My favorite work was Chromosaturation by Carlos Cruz-Diez: a three-chambered room—white walls, white floors, white ceiling—with each chamber lit by a single hue of fluorescent light. The blue, green, and magenta lights are incredibly vivid, making it easy to lose sight of where walls and floor meet, but they fuse into one another at the chamber edges. Walking through the installation, immersing yourself in the lights and slipping from color to color, is a dazzling experience, one that inspires virtually everyone to whip out camera phones to photograph themselves and their friends bathed in the lights. I thought it was sort of silly until I was there myself, awash in the vivid colors and longing for some way to remember their gentle intensity. Chromosaturation creates a particularly lovely breed of uncanny, like gliding into another dimension and home again without a twinge of discomfort, as if people were meant to experience something so mysterious and magical.

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*I won’t be writing a post about this exhibit because I don’t feel well-versed enough in the subject matter to comment much on it. Plus, this was a vacation: my normal OCD rules on what I must write about don’t apply.

**For the record, I’m not describing video games in general as “lowest-common-denominator work,” nor do I even think The Art of Video Games could fairly be described that way. I do think, though, that the Smithsonian exhibit relies far too much on nostalgia (“Oh, I remember that game!”) and delves too little into the aesthetic and narrative elements it purports to celebrate.

3 Replies to “Suprasensorial”

  1. Your descriptions of the different artworks are perfect. I feel like I was there too; I can imagine them so well.

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  2. I heard an article on NPR about the Art of Video Games exhibit and what I remember of it seemed to be very much the “wow … I remember that … ” Meeting the nostalgia factor.

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