First published: Summer 2017
The John Michael Kohler Arts Center, with its enviable collections and prestigious exhibition spaces, could relax and enjoy its well-earned reputation – but that’s not how it does things. Instead, it likes to set the standards, challenge itself and its visitors, and create extraordinary exhibitions that capture and reveal the innate qualities and moving stories contained within its collections.
As part of its 50th anniversary celebrations, the Center has bravely decided to install 15 exhibitions incorporating the works of 17 environment builders, taking place over the course of the year. The curator, Karen Patterson, also allocated each exhibition a “responder”, charged with producing a reflective output based on the environment or artist in question. Made up of writers, curators, artists, scholars and theorists, the responders eagerly delivered a host of offerings including maps, creative pieces, new writing, music and artworks.
Nek Chand, figures from the Rock Garden, Chandigarh, India. Constructed with junk metal armatures, cement, crockery mosaic, broken bangles, stones and other waste materials
This additional layer of display and interaction enriched the exhibitions and, far from competing with the collections, the responders’ works offered a new portal for understanding and thinking about the environments. The responders were in some way offering an homage to the works, as well as opening up new vistas of insight and intrigue, based on personal reflections. A conversation is started, a dialogue emerges, bland descriptions are banished, and a creative investigation and discussion flows.
There is a rolling programme throughout the year, and not all of the exhibitions will be on display at the same time. This curatorial move will continue to spark new discourse between the works as different pieces are removed, and new installations and responders inhabit the spaces and fill in the gaps.
In the narrow gallery is an extraordinary exhibition devoted to Eddie Owen Martin’s work at Pasaquan. “Pasaquoyanism”, it contains various articles of clothing and ephemera belonging to Martin, as well as texts by responder Jonathan Frederick Walz and an installation by artist Gê Orthof. The installation was produced following extensive site visits and the result is a series of works suspended on fishing wire and flimsy, almost non-functional shelves. It is a very site specific installation – there are no ropes or barriers protecting the work, and one feels slightly on edge. One false move or stumble, and the entire thing would be destroyed. There is real vulnerability coupled with light-hearted humour in this show (such as instructions on how to fix a turban in the style of Martin). It is delicate, exposed, playful, precise, and almost missable if you’re not careful – the installation includes tiny objects, such as a false eyelash stuck to the wall, plastic human figures and miniature clay bricks. It invokes so many qualities of Martin’s environment and life, and, in that sense, addresses the problem of exhibiting visionary environments: unlike a painting or sculpture, environments are incredibly difficult if not impossible to transport and successfully exhibit. Rather than pursuing the implausible and inauthentic attempts at recreating Pasaquan, Walz and Orthof have successfully, and rather cleverly, invoked something of the place and its spirit.
This is an article extract; read the full article in Raw Vision #94