Going to museums as a child can sometimes feel like torture. I remember having the uncontrollable urge to touch everything, because in my untainted little world, touching was my path to experience. My stepfather would tell me, “No, you can only touch with your eyes,” and I started to learn that I needed to keep my physical distance from art, as it internalized the gap between receiver and producer. Being allowed to touch is probably why I like so much the work of Brazilian artist Lygia Clark, with her first North American retrospective showing at The Museum of Modern Art.
Clark's work follows the natural evolution of reframing the artist/viewer relationship, which was originated by Marcel Duchamp when his ready-mades started to gain recognition in the second half of the 20th century, his objects directly addressing the viewer with the daunting question “Is this art?”. With this, the work of art could only become alive in the mind of the viewer (in the “real” world, a fountain is still a fountain).
Going beyond Duchamp, Clark’s viewer becomes an essential component for the work of art to actually exist — she introduces a third element to the artist/viewer relationship: the participant.
At the MoMA exhibition, not only did I touch, but I used the "Dialogue Goggles", which are meant to create a therapeutic and sensorial experience for the two participants who are needed for the work of art to come alive. The art is in the experience, not the object itself. This co-dependent interaction of participants feels a bit nostalgic in this moment in time when the self-sufficiency of virtual reality, with headset devices such as the Oculus Rift are now being used by young artists, like Ian Cheng as an example.
The title of her exhibition, “The Abandonment of Art”, sheds light to Lygia Clark's increased pursuit of a therapeutic practice with art, focusing solely on a person’s experience of the mind. The so-called “abandonment of art” seems strangely connected to where we are headed now with technology; whoever has tried on a pair of Oculus Rifts notices that the oddest part is that they don’t have a body, only a point of view. But without the body, how can I touch?
Lygia Clark: The Abandonment of Art, 1948–1988. Exhibition on view until August 24th, 2014.