Blow Up

One day last fall, balloon vendors returned to the streets of Kabul. Though banned by the Taliban, the balloon's frivolity and its magical defiance of gravity have proved irresistible to artists exploring the float-away nature of experience. This beguiling exhibition, organized by Independent Curators International and curated by Barbara Clausen and Carin Kuoni, provides an eclectic survey of recent art and works from the '60s and '70s that evoke a broad range of bubbly associations, from fantasy biospheres to boom-and-bust economies.

Painters have used bubbles as emblems of fragility (see Chardin and Manet) or as symbols of utopia. This exhibition begins in the lobby, where Pipilotti Rist's Nothing—a seemingly artless metal box—comes to life every five minutes, blowing immense soap bubbles that collapse under their own weight, like slapstick comedians. Within the gallery (entered through Lee Boroson's air-filled blue forest) are works that play with the dissolving boundaries of self and society. Ernesto Neto's Globulocell—interconnected skeins of Styrofoam-filled Lycra, stretched to create an immense web—recalls the structure of plant cells or the human epidermis, aiming for the place where all matter becomes alike and permeable. A showstopping videotape produced by Ray and Charles Eames for IBM in 1977 makes this point clear, moving outward from a couple picnicking on the shores of Lake Michigan to the farthest reaches of the galaxies, then into the microcosm of the man's skin and its molecules.

With just a drip, a puddle, and its reflection, installation artist Olafur Eliasson creates an eloquent meditation on the ephemeral nature of perception. Piero Manzoni's slyly comic Artist's Breath(1960)—a deflated balloon carcass, embalmed and framed—is suggestively juxtaposed with Sutee Kunavichayanont's Siamese Breath (Twins), two limp silicone bodies that twitch uncannily as the viewer breathes life into them. And hovering nearby is a key work by Andy Warhol: six silver pillows drifting through the air or recumbent on the floor like party guests on acid, offering their distorted reflections and embodying the artist's airy indifference.

 
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