Works of art that can be entered and explored; works of art that envelop us and play with our senses; works of art designed to be used in some way: this is the focus of Installation Art, Museion’s new exhibition, which presents immersive pieces from the museum’s collection that invite the public to physically engage with them. Sixteen artists – from Carl Andre to Luis Jakob, Heimo Zobernig and Monica Bonvicini – present large scale installations, video and works of light art that generate a spatial dimension. The selection spans various different types of installation art – some of them plunge us into an imaginary world, others affect our perception on a sensory or intellectual level, while others are based on eliciting direct interaction with visitors. All of them pay special attention to the viewer, who completes the work of art and becomes part of it, actively participating and adding his or her personal experience. Several of the works were made especially for Museion on occasion of previous exhibitions, and therefore stand as a record of the museums’ past shows.
The show is located on the second and third floors of Museion, but makes its first impression on the ground floor: all those who enter the building are invited to stop and take a seat, maybe have a chat, on the large red foam rubber sofa by Luca Vitone (Eppur si muove, 2007) or spend time in the info lounge redesigned by Heimo Zobernig, a project in which art installation and function, art objects and everyday objects mingle, in keeping with the Austrian artist’s radical aesthetic. The work of art as functional, something to be used, and at the same time an opportunity to explore alternative social and economic strategies and spark debate, with the involvement of the public: this is the case of the FREE BEER Garden by the Danish collective Superflex, also on the ground floor. Visitors are invited to buy and drink a glass of free beer, and the recipe for this special beer, formulated by the artists, is also made available to the public.
Showing visitors to the stairs to the second floor is the light installation by Spencer Finch entitled Blue (Sky over Los Alamos, New Mexico, 5/5/00, Morning Effect), 2000, which engages with the imagination: 173 bulbs hang from the ceiling, reproducing the molecular structure of a particular shade of blue that the artist identified in Los Alamos on 5th May 2000. The historical piece by Otto Piene, Lichtballett (Lichtkugel), 1961 also creates an immaterial space generated by moving light and envelops the viewer in a cosmic dimension in which the force of gravity appears to be suspended. Then there is the hypnotic power of the large, luminous rotating disc Große Lichtscheibe by Günther Uecker, while Collection, 2010, by Massimo Bartolini delves into Museion’s collection of video art.
Absences and uncertainties are suggested by the English artist Robert Barry in his Untitled Installation (1992), which marks the transition from the second to the third floor of the exhibition. Words that negate and deny or reference forms of absence, like impossible, anything, maybe, almost, against, missing and unknown, are written on the walls in bright orange, creating a physical and mental space the public is invited to engage with.
An indefinite situation of vulnerability and fragility is evoked by a piece that undermines the very ground beneath our feet: Mirosław Bałka’s piece is a metal platform that tips up, creating a deafening bang, every time someone walks across it.
Architecture as a non-neutral, clearly male-dominated space, is the focus of the construction I Believe in the Skin of Things as in that of Women, created by Monica Bonvicini for the 1999 Venice Biennale. The impact of colonialism and post-colonialism on contemporary society is investigated by Angela Ferreira’s piece Maison Tropicale (2007) – a striking, accessible structure made of wood and aluminium, inspired by and referencing the prototype of the “Maison Tropical”, affordable housing designed by the French architect Jean Prouvé in 1949 for French bureaucrats in Niger and Congo.
Hubert Kostner, on the other hand, invites visitors into an Alpine landscape in his installation Welcome on Board. The artist lends this magical panorama a deliberately stereotyped, artificial atmosphere, setting out to elicit a spirit of critical detachment in the viewer.
Sylvie Fleury’s work is also known for its ironic approach, with the focus on certain codes of consumer society: in Chanel Fall/Winter, 1994, visitors are invited to walk barefoot on the lipstick red carpet and browse the glossy magazines scattered here and there, thus becoming an integral part of the ambivalent game of social values that the artist sets up.
In the words of Luis Jacob, whose works are paradigmatic for experimental contemporary art, “We do not view art as more real than reality because it shows us a “different world”, or because it brings us closer to our reality, but because it enables us to perceive the essence of reality in its intrinsic ambiguity”. The show includes Jacob’s piece Album VI, 2008, a series of photographic collections of images taken from books or magazines, placed under plastic wrap to create a composition of intertwining narratives. The artist is aware that hardly anyone will be able to understand or pick out every single image among the 162 contained in the album, but his aim is to stimulate the viewer to create his or her own individual, free associations, generating new meanings and giving rise to “visual rhymes”. In this sense, Jacob’s work encapsulates the show’s whole approach: “This exploration of Installation Art is intentionally devoted to enlightened viewers ready to engage actively with the artworks, undertaking what is essentially a significant act of freedom”, notes Letizia Ragaglia, Museion’s Director and curator of the exhibition.