The Liz Larner exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago brings two of the artist’s stainless steel sculptures to the outdoor space of the Bluhm Family Terrace. The more recent of the two is X (2013): a rounded, insect-like x-shape of polished chrome, along with 6 (2010-11): a lighter, more open version of its brother, painted lavender, white, and yellow-brown. These are united by a large, wooden platform which the wall text describes as “ash from urban lumber”.
The objects are exposed to the elements, but are protected by the half-roof and substantial steel bars surrounding the terrace. Seen against the wide open sky (a rare sight for most of us ground dwellers in the city), it should be a serene and cheerful sight. So why does it give the impression of animals in a cage? In this setting, with the large tall bars that surround the terrace, the sculptures feel trapped and claustrophobic. And, like all proper zoo animals, they come with a sign directing visitors not to touch them. This sign is somewhat contradicted by the wall text, which indicates that in the case of X (but not 6) “viewers may enter the physical space of the form itself”. To do so, most adults would have to crouch down or crawl underneath the claw-like structure, an awkward undertaking with questionable payoff.
Lengthy, contemplative viewing, however, may generate empathy for these sculptures. They seem to want to have fun, but the bars and signs and lack of space keep them caged, cowering, and untouchable.
Liz Larner at the Art Institute of Chicago
Chameleon-like in quality, the latest sculptural installation on display at the Art Institute of Chicago’s Bluhm Family Terrace, Liz Larner’s works X (2013) and 6 (2010-11) emanate the bustling and metropolitan, yet approachable state-of-mind, that is, the city of Chicago. Parked on top of a wooden platform, the works assume a position that is at once intentional and happenstance, as visitors are encouraged to step closer for a more in-depth view. A ten-year resident of Chicago, I immediately begin to draw parallels between the curvy, metallic and reflective qualities of Larner’s X to that of Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate and Frank Gehry’s Jay Pritzker Pavilion situated in the near distance. However, in contrast to these latter mentioned works, viewers of Larner’s works are able to enjoy a position of superiority, looking down and over the works as one circles the perimeter specific to each. The viewer’s experience seems rather predetermined, the artist presumably asking us to position the works within the vast skyline seen directly behind. Quickly bypassing any feelings of wonder or curiosity in relation to the works, the viewer races to recalculate the new skyline with these works as the latest addition. Larner succeeds in this regard, though, the malleable nature of the works showcased by their ability to adapt to the grid lines and shiny exteriors of the skyscrapers. The open, yet site-specific nature of Larner’s works, as described in the nearby placard, rings true as one turns a critical yet fanciful eye toward the architectural and natural feats that define the Chicago’s skyline.
Liz Larner’s X (2013) and 6 (2010-11) Bluhm Family Terrace at the Art Institute of Chicago (2015)
The two work of Liz Larner displayed on the Bluhm Terraces are fun and energetic temporary additions to the already breath taking urban landscape that can be viewed on top of the Modern Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Posing themselves as effortless and toy like objects, Larner’s sculptures reference the shapes and the materials of the architectural elements of their surroundings. While the box like shapes of 6 mimics the skyscrapers, the shininess of the stainless steel and its organic quality of X echoes the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in the Millennium Park. As if they are a more abstract and experimental version of the bigger structures in their background.
The elevation of the sculptures that is created by the wood platform that is commissioned by the artist is also a necessary and complete touch to the display of the two pieces. When viewing the pieces outside of the platform, the pieces obtain an almost virtual object like quality as some digital sculptures you are able to find within the online gallery nowadays, such as the ones that is found on the realfake.org under the Impossible Object. As the viewers step onto the wood flooring, they then become more aware of their own bodies in relationship to the two not too much bigger size objects. The fun contours and colors of the pieces also invoke almost a dancing quality in relationship to the viewers’ bodies. And when the viewers are able to see one sculpture through the other, it creates an interesting dialogue of form especially compared with the grogous view behind. Larner’s pieces are successfully shown on the Bluhm Terraces because not only it makes the viewers aware of themselves, but it also asks them to have more in-depth consideration put into the environment they found themselves in.