Moody Spring Opening 2018
A MacArthur Fellow “genius grant” recipient, Josiah McElheny has brought his personal genius to the Brown Foundation Gallery with his icy and intimidating installation, “Island Universe.” For the first time, the gallery did away with its blocky and intrusive temporary walls in favor of a large open space. Five chromed metal sculptures hang from the ceiling’s steel grid, each representing a real or theoretical universe.
The sculptures, spiney and fragile, are the result of five years of collaboration between McElheny and cosmologist David Weinberg. They are intended to be a physical model of the multiverse scenario of eternal inflation, which postulates the existence of other potential, infinitely expanding universes. Long metal spines, carefully measured, represent this eternal inflation – each 7.2 inches represents a doubling in space and time. The spines end in hand-blown glass disks and balls that model individual galaxies. The result is an explosion of metal and glass, lending the gallery a kinetic energy at odds with the still nature of the fixtures.
According to Moody Center Executive Director Allison Weaver, the piece was transported in 30 crates and took 10 people five days to install. This fragility directly contradicts the sculptures’ appearance. Reflective and shiny, they draw the viewer in for closer examination, only to repel the viewer through a fear of getting spiked. Closer looks entail ducking and weaving among the sculptures, as they are at head-height but not meant to be interactive. Onlookers can see themselves reflected hundreds of times in the chrome sculptures, making a walk through the gallery a dizzyingly animated experience. According to Weaver, this is intentional, as is almost every detail of the exhibit.
One of the biggest downsides to the installation is the noticeable lack of an easily accessible description. The gallery has no text on its walls, which Weaver said was McElheny’s personal request. This leaves most of the interpretation up to the viewers, who consequently lose much of the scientific thought behind the installation. The Moody attempts to resolve this information gap with an associated reading room, but the room is neither attached to the exhibit nor easily found. Not a new problem to Moody exhibits, lack of contextual information diminishes the precise and well-researched background of “Island Universe.”
“Pile the Wood High!” is a visual representation of the mentor-apprentice relationship in art: the three artists featured are three generations of teacher-student pairs, with Perlman being Lapinski’s professor and Lapinski being Helm’s. Each contributed two pieces to the gallery that highlight their individual craft. The exhibition is also the first to feature a member of Rice’s visual and dramatic arts department, sculpture professor Lisa Lapinski.
The exhibition is housed in the main gallery and consists of an entourage of wood and metal sculptures, sketches of the sculptures, a picnic table, a bow sculpture, mixed media artwork and a shaker board surrounding the border of the exhibition.
Although the pieces are intended to be in dialogue with each other, they instead feel jarringly separate, a sensation that is augmented by the open nature of the main gallery. Perlman’s wooden figures cluster in the center and seem the most at home on the hardwood floor. His corresponding sketches also seem clearly connected to the figures and allow the viewer to see the transition from 2-D to 3-D. However, all obvious dialogue ends there. Lapinski’s bow sculpture stands aside as an afterthought next to the figures, as does Helm’s picnic table. Without direction, and again unaided by contextual description, the supposed visual dialogue in “Pile the Wood High!” is unclear and left to the viewer’s discretion.
In the place of teamLAB’s beloved exhibit “Flowers and People” is “Particle Chamber,” another digital projection experience in the Moody’s Media Arts Gallery. The artist, Leo Villareal, also created “Radiant Pathway,” a 92-light tube fixture found in Rice’s Bioscience Research Center. According to Weaver, the new exhibit is intended to reactivate “Radiant Pathway.” She told HoustonPress that the algorithms that run “Particle Chamber” were created by students and faculty of the Bioscience Research Center.
Upon entering the room, a distant roaring noise can be heard. Visitors are greeted with a writhing, flowing mass of pixels. Individual pixels, represented in sharp clarity, become difficult to follow as they chase after each other in a never-ending flow. Villareal writes that he intends for his art to “[serve] as a portal – something that takes the viewer to another place.”
“Particle Chamber” is a part of the Moody Center’s efforts to bring together art and technology, and like “Flowers and People,” it succeeds. The random pixel patterns evoke familiar movements: waves, sand and even stars in the night sky. The viewer is left to be entranced by these familiar and comforting movements.