LACMA Pt.1: The Sympathetic Imagination

Greetings to you! I have another exhibition review for you today on an installation I visited this past weekend at the LACMA, short for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. I have been to the LACMA many times, and highly recommend their permanent collections, as they are varied across many time periods as well as genres. They also have so much to do for children, which is wonderful- check out their calendar and schedule to book days with activities specific to your children’s interests. Click here to be taken to the home page for the LACMA once you are finished reading this blog!

My most recent visit was to see two specific exhibitions. This first post is about The Sympathetic Imagination, and my second post coming soon will be about their currently finished (sorry!) exhibition New Objectivity: Modern Art in the Weimer Republic, 1919-1933– stay tuned!

I was initially enticed to seek out this exhibition due to the amazing photo of an owl that was used for their advertising- let’s be honest, who does not love a cute owl nowadays? I did not know much about the artist Thater, so let me share with you some information about her that I found in the booklet that was available at her exhibition. She emerged in Los Angeles in the 90s, and her main medium is film and video. She wants to challenge and change the way that moving images are experienced across the disciplines of science, film, museum exhibitions, and contemporary culture. These exhibitions can be experienced ‘kinetically, viscerally, and physically rather than observing from a distance’. I really like that. I have always been a big supporter of exhibitions that require active participation, resulting in a multisensory experience. Please, let’s shake things up!

Her exhibition did not have signs or labels. There was no clear direction designated as the appropriate way to move through the spaces. I did not read this booklet until I sat down to write this blog, yet I still know that this all came across her in exhibition. The rooms are large, and the projections are even larger. They move. I cannot convey in words the sensation of being at the exhibition, but I can say that I was not AT it but I felt I was INSIDE it. You can see yourself, in different colors, your shadow as you walk in front of a projector to enter or exit a room. The images are everywhere, not just on a wall- they are on tv screens, on the floor, on the ceiling, moving across a room, and surrounding you. You have to move your body to walk through, and your head to see up and down, making the visitor actively involved.

The visitors that I observed was what was most striking to me. The museum had out a drawing station, and children were scattered everywhere with clipboards and pencils drawing imaged from the exhibition, as well as their own creations. They were scampering about freely, as the space was completely open aside from a few projectors sitting in corners on the floor. I saw senior citizens, looking up and around smiling at the animals that danced across space. I saw teenagers taking selfies for their Instagram accounts with the projections scattering bright colors across their faces. I saw couples standing and looking at their shadows next to each other on the walls. Everyone was enjoying themselves- people were laughing, thinking, looking, and enjoying. What I most enjoyed however was a group that had pulled a gallery assistant over to the side, and was so angry because they could not understand the exhibition- they complained that they did not know where to start or end, there were no labels to identify the images, and that it was not real art.

They were missing (in my opinion) the key point! The Sympathetic Imagination is not just an art installation, it is an experience. I could tell immediately that Thater wanted the visitor to experience rather than just look. I really just enjoyed the heck out of this exhibition, and so did my partner who as usually I dragged along with me. When I left, I felt so inspired and my head was so full of the possibilities that this kind of museum atmosphere could do for exhibitions and how we define and experience museum spaces. This exhibition is thought provoking, without needing to use sex appeal or gore to wow people like so many art exhibitions do. Spaces can be transformed and made into a different place, with a projector and a video or image. This is of course not a new concept, but then that begs the question of why I have not seen more museums  taking advantage of this kind of experience, be that hosting an exhibition of this nature, or putting into action the work. It is so simple, yet so beautiful. And its not just a space looking different, but it gives it movement and perspective. If someone wanted to completely change the look of a room for a temporary exhibition to give people this feeling of being somewhere they are not or looking at something from a different angle, it is totally doable! Food for thought.

If you are in the Los Angeles area or have the opportunity to see Thater’s work at some point, I urge you to do so. I hope that like me you take something from it and enjoy the experience. If you want to see more pictures that what were included here, check out my Museum Photo Gallery post by clicking here. Also, if you want to find out more about the artist click here to go to her professional web site.

Thanks for sharing with us Diana, and thanks for allowing me to take pictures in your exhibition!



Live long and prosper.

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