“Strange Pilgrims”

The Contemporary Austin | Jones Center
700 Congress Avenue
September 27, 2015–January 24, 2016

Ayşe Erkmen, 3DN, 2015, textile installation, 27 x 40 x 47".

Circa 1968, amid the Cold War’s existential crises and worldwide student protests against institutionalized repression and violence, artists challenged the hegemony of autonomous objects with conceptual works that exposed the role of embodied perception in establishing art’s meaning. Fast-forward several decades, and the role of perception and “experience” is golden, evident in social-practice debates and the ubiquity of performance. “Strange Pilgrims” wades into this territory and succeeds by giving its thirty installations, made by an eclectic array of thirteen artists and one collective, space to be fully perceived.

Sensorial revelations abound. At the Jones Center, Bruce Nauman’s Green Light Corridor, 1970, occupies the second floor, estranging everything with its narrow confines and acid hue. Downstairs, more recent works include Andy Coolquitt’s sensual object arrangements and Angelbert Metoyer’s “shrine” of indigo-dipped African sculptures and gold-dust paintings that conjure myth and pain. At the Visual Art Center, some installations wow—Trisha Baga’s projected and ceramic sights to be navigated with 3-D glasses, Phil Collins’s hutches for hunkering down and watching faux shopping television—while others are more nourishing. Charles Atlas’s Cowboy Body, 2015, feeds the whole body: Improvisational dance footage shot over decades plays on more than a dozen monitors and projectors scattered about a room in which everything, including chairs and a bed for lounging, hums in the color of ripe oranges. Paul Sharits’s Dream Displacement, 1976, stuns multiple senses: Four 16-mm projectors cast a panorama of flickering light, color, and vibrations that is occasionally “shattered” by the sounds of crashing glass.

At the museum’s lakeside venue, a bubble machine by Roger Hiorns titled A retrospective view of the pathway, 2008–15, and an LED-lit dream-sharing device by Yoko Ono, titled Summer Dream (Let your dream come true on a distant wall, 2002), delight, while photography collective Lakes Were Rivers quietly steals the show. Its project, Swan Cycle, 2015, involves a low plinth installed with framed photographs of archival material—newspaper clippings, ice sculpture, a painting—that summon the history of the estate, the museum, and photography. To see all the images, you must mount the villa’s balcony, yet to study any one picture requires remaining below. The work, like “Strange Pilgrims,” arouses the rich and contingent way meaning develops through experience.

— Kate Green