Two Shows One Experience

The missus and I hit the Hirshhorn Museum and the Renwick Gallery to catch the two hottest art shows in DC right now. Suprasenorial at the Hirshhorn is just that–a bounty of well-organized and high quality “light and space” installation art from the 60s and 70s. Much of the work is interactive and I found all visitors young and old holding smiles from piece to piece. We delighted in the work of Jesus Rafael Soto, in particular, the installation of vivid blue cables that created a room through which you could walk, skip, or run (if the guard was looking the other way). I should point out that the accompanying microsite from the museum contains podcasts from the major artists, so don’t miss those.

As you enter the museum, you’ll be deeply engaged right from the start by Ai Weiwei’s massive sculpture installation of cast animal totems from the Chinese zodiac. Every astrological beast is featured, and if you know you’re totem, you’ll be drawn to it. Mine is the Tiger.

Overall the architecture of the Hirshhorn and the exhibit play together as you wind your way around the circular exhibit. My wife and I had to rub our eyes and get our bearings as we emerged. And that, we love. While the exhibit has received criticsm for its sensationalism, I would counter that there are plenty of exhibits on the Mall dedicated to contemporary art education from the view of the scholarly critique, there must also be room to exhibit contemporary art based on broad emotional engagement, and Suprasensorial delivers.

The 40 Under 40 show on the contemporary American crafts movement at the Renwick Gallery is also interactive and much of the work is installation, but it differs from Suprasensorial in that its primary mission is exposure. The American “Maker” movement underway combines commercialism, art and craft–as well as an ethos of “made here”. The work isn’t always political or mysterious, but every piece we encountered carried Story. The forty artists were obviously born after 1972 and many have grown up with half their lives being dominated by war. One of the most potent pieces was by Washington, DC native Cat Mazza. “Knit for Defense” is a digital video of black and white footage of soldiers marching and fighting, digitized to appear as animated knit scenes. Its hard to explain, but the footage seems to have been knit. As you recognize the imagery and action below the knit surface, it deeply affects you because you immediately assume the artist knitted the images. As you lean in, you realize the footage has been run through a digital application to create the special effect. Its astounding as your stereotypes, imagination, and memory come into play as you realize that the wars of the 2000s themselves have become one giant special effect, seemingly real and unreal as we watch them through the mediation of the internet, splashy fake-news channels like Fox, and are own interpretation.

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