Getting into the Artwork

April 2, 2009

When I first entered the Franz West show and encountered the papier-mâché articles that are meant to be interacted with—the Adaptives—a smile bubbled up inside me. West makes art that includes you in its space. It's art that changes over time, either in its use or by its use. This may be the quickest and easiest route to creating engagement with the art viewer, but it is an honest invitation all the same, and I find beauty in that.

A photographer whose work reminds me of West is Erwin Wurm. The first photograph I remember seeing by Wurm was Outdoor Sculpture Cahors. It's mostly a photo of a street. There's also a wall on the right and a man bent over at 90 degrees at the waist with his head completely obscured in what is ostensibly a hole in that wall, as if he had no head at all. My reaction was, "This guy Wurm is funny." Wurm makes photographs that I find funny because they are pictures of people interacting with the space around them in ways in which that space is not usually interacted with. Ultimately, this realm of interaction reaches the same slapstick spot that stupid human tricks tickle—but it gets there via the glossy photo book, museum, or gallery setting, which only compounds the amusement.

Erwin Wurm, Outdoor Sculpture Cahors, 1999

Erwin Wurm, Outdoor Sculpture Cahors, 1999

In January, I went to SFMOMA and partook in "The Trap of the Truth," one of Wurm's One Minute Sculptures. To do so I held a can of beans, a carrot, a banana, a green pepper, and an orange (all of which were plastic) between me and the gallery wall, as a small pencil-drawn diagram told me to do. "The Trap of the Truth" was part of the exhibit The Art of Participation: 1950 to Now, a multi-artist show examining "how artists have engaged members of the public as essential collaborators in the art-making process." Like with West's work, lots of visitors were enjoying participating with the artwork. I'm just glad I summoned the gumption to grab a stranger and ask them to take my picture with my balanced fruits and can.

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Sarah Bay Williams, Ralph M. Parsons Fellow, Photography