LSU Museum of Art’s latest temporary acquisition, “State of the Art: Record,” on loan from the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, is a surprisingly interactive exhibition with multiple pieces that actively encourage viewer contact.
Kellie Romany’s “In an Effort to be Held” depicts 36 different shades of oil paint, representing the chromatic scale of skin color tiles created for the use of determining race up until the 1950s, poured in the small ceramic circles and laid out across a table .
Unlike most artworks in galleries that viewers must be content with just viewing, they can stack and shuffle these tiny disks, making each person’s manipulation a determining factor in the way the next person views the same piece.
“Every time you see the piece, it has changed, which is a metaphor about how we as humans change each other,” Romany said.
The museum placed gloves on the table, presumably to indicate Romany’s work is meant to be held, though she doesn’t fully agree with the decision.
“It is a language that we made for each other in the context of the gallery, to tell the viewer this is something you can touch,” Romany said. “But the glove in itself, I will say it’s questionable. I don’t have an answer for that right now.”
This exhibition is likely to mark the first time that many viewers see a playable video game in an art gallery. Tucked in the corner of the room but impossible to miss is a desk with a comic book cover, light up keyboard and large computer monitor. This setup is a part of the artwork “Ineffable Glossolalia” by Tapathi Nikolai.
In the video game, players can explore Nikolai’s three-dimensional world meant to communicate’s failure to describe transgender experiences. Sometimes breathtaking, other times nerve-wracking, the game is an experience, and an experience like no other when considering it’s existence inside of a museum space.
While vastly different from Romany’s piece, there is a similarity in the art as communication or a conversation-starter on the subject of human bodies, where language often fails to do the job.
Romany was making realistic paintings of bodies, including her own, and switched to abstraction for two reasons — the idea of predominantly-white collectors owning her body after seeing herself in a collector’s house, and also that it creates the space for discourse, an artistic impact important to Romany.
“If there isn’t any room for that, it doesn’t interest me that much,” Romany said during her artist visit to LSU during the day after her opening reception performance in early March. “This [conversation] to me is how the work becomes successful.”
Paul Stephen Benjamin’s video installation “Daily Meditations” features three different videos, two of which are live performances of “Strange Fruit,” playing on a mountain of box TVs. The eerie song follows you around the museum, just as the bright blue video of the child swinging is burned into your mind.
Another artwork requiring multiple senses is the site-specific “Liner Spaces (Purple)” by Cory Imig. The hanging ribbon pieces from that people can walk through invite the viewer to consider space and the ways they move through it.
Including plenty of visual art as well, like a comic-infused mixed-media acrylic painting, “State of the Art: Record” is an experience for both the eyes and body.