Monday, December 17, 2007

If it hits the fan

It might be down to OSH, but you don’t often see anything very alarming in our art museums. A spectacular exception would have to be Len Lye’s Trilogy which can scare the bejesus out of anyone who isn’t ready for it. The most extreme version was presented in the National Art Gallery’s Shed 11 where you stood looking straight at the blades rather than down on them, as you usually do at the Govett-Brewster. Someone, maybe it was John Matthews, said that if a blade broke off mid-performance it would simply fall harmlessly to the ground. Hmmm, maybe. Does art have to be safe? Some artists seem to be revisiting ideas proposed decades ago (e.g. by Michael Heizer, Chris Burden) that art with risk might usefully test bureaucratic expectations and shakeup the ennui of visitors. Tate Modern is on the game with the dramatic slides of Carsten Holler’s Test Site (reportedly five injuries) and now Doris Salcedo's Sibboleth. Three people fell into this chasm across the floor of the Turbine Hall on the first day. Some of Simon Denny’s balanced pieces defy the safety rules of most public spaces and just this week we saw a smart example at the Olafur Eliasson exhibition in San Francisco. As you walk into the foyer a large commercial fan swoops down over your head, self-propelled and seemingly arbitrary in its flight pattern. Excitingly alarming but in fact not dangerous at all. So at least some galleries have decided to join with the artists and not play it safe.

Image: Olafur Eliasson’s Ventilator on exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.