Fun. No Fun. Kraft Duntz featuring Dawn Cerny.

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Review

of an Exhibit

by Brooke Hutchison

Published on May 24, 2017 , Modified on May 24, 2017

  • Description:

    This was my first visit to the Henry Art Gallery on the University of Washington campus, and the third exhibition I experienced that day. Not knowing the layout of the building or how big the museum is, I was surprised to discover the exhibition was multiple rooms, and it felt like it just kept going. The changes in rooms, as well as the change in materials used, made it unclear at first if this was a part of the same exhibition or not. All of this added to elements of surprise, intrigue, and curiosity as I moved throughout and explored the exhibition.

    While there are three entrances to the exhibition on two different floors, I entered on the second floor (the only access from the second floor), into a room maybe 40 × 50 feet (50 feet ahead of me, 40 feet to my left). From there, I could walk down a few walkways/catwalks/ramps or turn some corners and take stairs here and there to make my way down to the first floor. The simple ramps and stairs were made out of plywood and common 2×4s with thick plastic covering the railings, making me think of temporary construction sites that were ADA compliant. The maze-like options to move throughout the levels felt delightfully playful, making me wonder which route I should take (and further wonder why I might choose that route), and which route I could take the next time. I was also aware of the people moving through the space around me, and I wondered why they each chose their route, too (although it was pretty empty and quite when I visited).

    On the way down I could see the rest of the space, which was wide open with solid walls (no windows), and a few small environments set up like a series of living rooms or reading nooks. Each one had bright colors, stimulating patters, and vibes that could be experienced in thrift shops containing 50s-70s furniture. While the rugs uniting each little environment were fine to walk on, we were informed that we could not touch the items, sit in the chairs, or touch the thin tapestries hanging from the ceiling – giving the illusion of walls. The museum representative informed us that the artists originally wanted visitors to engage with the items and touch or sit as desired, but the staff found it too difficult to monitor after a few issues arose.

    Some makeshift shelves looked to be made with thin pieces of wood notched together is ways that didn’t always make sense, covered in lumpy plaster, and printed solid bright colors with matte tempura paint. While it was unconvincing they could bare weight, some held an assortment of books, baskets, bowls, crumpled pieces of paper, a floss-pick, gum wrapper, and other various items one might find in couch cushions or forgotten next to a garbage can.

    Exploring this space compared to the maze-like ramps and stairs made it feel like the artists were disrupting the space with fun little environments to spark curiosity, reflection, and juxtapose one against the other. Doing this made it apparent to me that I could walk under the ramps and stairs, accessing a third environment to consider. Ducking and crouching as I went, I could see the artists intended visitors to explore here, as there were interesting perspectives from different parts of the room, and signs here and there informing us that we could not climb on the structures.

    Coming out from under the stairs and ramps, through the mini-living rooms, I walked through a doorway to another gallery, assuming I was leaving this exhibition and into another. At this point I realized the wall and doorway was actually made out of cardboard – the doorway was ~9 feet tall; the cardboard wall went up both stories. As I walked through the ~6 foot long doorway, the cardboard continued, making me slowly aware that the exhibition was still going. Entering the next space, windows high up towards the ceiling, it appeared the 20 × 40 foot room was empty, except for a large ~10 foot cylinder in the middle. Walking around the cylinder revealed it was a cylindrical staircase made of plywood and enclosed with translucent sheets of white plastic.

    As I circled up the stairs, the exposed wood mimicking the ideas of a construction site, the temperature rose significantly as the smell of the fresh wood filled the air. The stairs opened to a second floor room temporarily created by building the floor – the windows, walls, and ceiling are existing parts of the museum, and by adding a floor at this height with stairs to access it, the artists created an open, empty room full of sunshine (at least on this day).

    The entire exhibition made me wonder, “why?” It made me curious, engaged me in ways I wasn’t always expecting, and left me wishing there were children here, and I imagine they would be delighted to explore, crouch, climb, lay, and look in this space, giggles filling the air. The childlike vibes of this space felt playful and seemed to invite me to participate… but the directions not to touch made it feel more like watching a game of duck-duck-goose from afar and wishing I could join in the fun.

    The lack of text and explanations created the opportunity for my imagination to flourish, which I appreciated, yet the museum educator in me wanted to know more about the artists, their intent, what they wanted visitors to experience, etc. The lack of information was, for me, refreshing and frustrating. It still makes me wonder, and now I’d like to go back with other people to talk and wonder together…

    So, my curiosity has been stoked, and I am always pleased when an exhibition can foster creativity. I look forward to checking it out again.

Latest Comments (1)

intrigued

by Kathleen Mclean - May 30, 2017

Your review really made me curious—what was the intention of this installation? You seemed to have conflicting reactions and experiences, so I went to the Henry Art Gallery website and read their online description of the installation. It seems that the artists’ intentions were embodied in your experience. It was a good idea for you to include the video snippet as well, because it gave a good sense of the echoing footsteps, the wandering through that you described in words. Was there no description of the installation at any of the entrances?

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