Art and Architecture Review: Sometimes a road is just a road

Art can encompass a variety of things. In the current exhibit at the WSU Museum of Art, the current focus is on buildings and objects in “Art and Architecture.” However, despite what one might initially believe, there are more photographs and paintings than actual structures here. The main theme of this gallery is architectural space; both in the works and in the gallery presentation itself. Whether it’s the inside of a temple, a house in the middle of a field, or a scene of New York City, all of the presented works have lots of empty space in them. Aside from a single, enormous piece in the center of the main room, all of the exhibits are on the walls; thus leaving a lot of space in the middle.

The most noticeable piece, as well as the only physical structure-type work in this exhibit, is Christopher Larson’s “Pause.” In this piece, he depicts the car from the “Dukes of Hazzard” crashing through the cabin of the Unabomber. The scaling of this piece is nearly as large as it would be in real life, giving the destructive scene a powerful presence, as it dwarfs everything in the area. It looks like it may collapse at any moment, yet it is surprisingly sturdy. What is most striking about this is that the entire structure, (car and destroyed cabin both,) are made entirely out of wood. Perhaps this was to clearly reference the Unabomber himself, who had started his bombings as a strike against technology.

Another featured artist is John Haddock, who re-enacts various moments through computer imaging. Out of a set of twenty pictures, eight of them were on display at this exhibit. Some of the events depicted were those in our socio-political history, while others were memorable events from movies. These include the shootings at Columbine, the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., and the jury room scene from the movie 12 Angry Men. Although the events were important and controversial, it seemed that the locations they were set in were featured more prominently than the people and events themselves. The pictures are presented in an isometric view, which seems to emphasize the locations more than the people and events happening in them. This gives off the impression that, no matter how important or shocking these events seemed to be, they will pass on and life will continue in the end.

One piece that caught my eye was Duane Michals’ “I build a Pyramid.” It is a series of photographs where he takes a bunch of rocks and builds a pyramid-like structure out of them, and then shows a final shot where the camera is brought lower to the ground; thus presenting his little mound to be as large as the great pyramids of (presumably) Egypt that he is near. The most apparent message in this is that he is striking down the notion of greatness that is associated with the pyramids, as he has built such a structure on his own out of some rocks that were just scattered around.

For the most part, it seems like a lot of the works represented didn’t really have a purpose in their design. Several works in the exhibit merely presented something as it was without any obvious tells as to any themes or messages they were trying to present, other than the title. It is possible that having no purpose can be a theme of itself in this gallery. For Enlightenment thinker Immanuel Kant, he came up with the theory that art should have “…purposiveness without a purpose.” An exhibit like this is probably one that can be most appreciated with those that can attain the “disinterested” attitude towards art that Kant used in his philosophies. But for someone like me, who actively seeks the various meanings in a work, it would be difficult to truly appreciate most of the art seen here.

That line of thinking best relates to my experience with Oliver Boberg’s “Landstrosse/Country Road.”
It is a video loop of a rainy night along the titular road, with soothing ambient nighttime sounds being played in the background. Although it is on a loop, there are plenty of variations in the track (crickets, dogs, etc.) that one can watch it for a long time while seeing or hearing things they did not before. After I while, I wondered if anything noticeable was really going to happen in the video, or if it would just be more of the same. I realize though, that this line of thinking was detrimental to the overall experience. Trying to actively find hidden meanings or symbolism in a piece like this is an unnecessary effort. Sometimes a road is just a road, no strange symbols or messages there.



By: Charles Degan
Major: Chemical Engineering
Expected Graduation: May, 2011
Hometown: Kennewick, WA

At first, I didn’t understand how viewing architectural space could be considered artistic. As an engineer, I had trouble seeing just how empty space could serve any purpose, other than being simply room to grow into. However once I began to look into the art a bit more, I began to discover how the artists used this space to convey their themes in the various works presented. While some of the exhibits held some hidden meanings and references, others had no secrets and simply were what they appeared to be.