New York

Ay-O

Emily Harvey Foundation

Ever since the early ’60s, when he rejected both abstract and illusionistic art because he felt they were remote from actual human experience, Ay-O has focused on the human body. By utilizing the senses (touch, sight, smell, hearing, and taste) as his mediums, Ay-O, like many of his Fluxus peers (as well as the Minimal, Pop, and Conceptual artists), brings art back into the realm of everyday experience.

Preceded by a small cardboard box mailed out as an announcement, Ay-O’s recent exhibition consisted of a series of colorful canvases entitled “Rainbow Hole,” and the inauguration of a permanent environment called Ay-O’s Black Hole (all works 1991). One side of the announcement box featured a white circle with the instruction: “PUT FINGER IN.” As my finger punctured the circle and entered what turned out to be a void, I was overcome by the kind of mild trepidation a child feels upon entering a house of horrors in which spaghetti is used to simulate brains, and peeled eggs to represent eyes. While I have put many a finger into Ay-O’s boxes, the sensation of not knowing whether I was going to touch something soft, smooth, sharp, or wet was still unsettling.

Ay-O’s Black Hole transforms the visitor’s entire body into a protruding finger. Upon entering the labyrinth, we are asked to hold onto a low-lying wooden rail attached to a wall at knee height. Bending over to grab it, we feel our way through a completely dark maze that seems to tunnel through the recesses of the building’s sub-basement. The rail leads us into long passages and around corners. Since one is never certain whether a turn might lead to a dropoff or cul de sac, the darkness and unexpected changes in direction are unnerving. While expecting surprises, nothing prepares us for the shock we feel as Ay-O manipulates the guide rail—the one element upon which we have placed our confidence. Ay-O has created many environments that challenge the senses, but none have elicited such an extreme blend of terror and whimsy as the Black Hole.

While Ay-O’s Black Hole leads us into a void, his “Rainbow Hole” works inundate the viewer with swirling colors painted on square canvases. Poking one’s finger into the center of the spectral vortexes yields various tactile experiences, that, coupled with the optical surfaces, produce sensory overload. In one piece a rainbow-painted ladder literally leads the viewer up to the art experience. Towers of wooden boxes with titles such as 10 Stories Apartment are mounted in the middle of the gallery, yielding all sorts of surprises as one puts one’s finger in the various pigeon holes. Ay-O offers a true “art experience,” by taking the lofty conceptualism of the body politic and bringing it back down to earth. A final piece entitled Rainbow Skeleton Mobile consists of a life-size cast of a human frame dismembered, painted according to the spectrum, and presented dangling like a mobile.

Kirby Gookin