If you’re not in New York this week, I recommend browsing the rest of this article while listening to Percy Sledge’s When a Man Loves a Woman as LOUD as humanly possible: it blasts abruptly in the gallery at a deafening volume for about 60 seconds of this 15-minute computer-controlled super show.
The work is not unlike the experience of a black hole: simultaneously confusing and yet completely inescapable. The 7-foot figure is dragged and dropped from the 20-foot tall truss, punctuated with a few calm moments of graceful ballet-like poses. The three heavy chains, controlled by mechanical pulleys, function beyond a giant robotic “puppeteer” – providing both an ear-piercing metal-on-concrete soundtrack and a fluid drawing tool on the floor. At moments, when the puppet lies crumpled and motionless, extra slack in the chain traces curves on the floor, or forms tiny mountains of metal in one spot.
The “eye contact” is a result of several cameras throughout the truss with facial recognition software that directly control the video eyes of the figure. If you’re lucky enough to enter alone, the video eyes will alternate between only you and the guard. Wolfson’s previous robotic sculpture, titled “Female Figure”, restricted access to only two visitors at one time to ensure constant eye contact (check this great video of that sculpture and the artist by MOCAtv). Without that restriction for this piece, along with the constant sway of the figure, the eye contact may only last a second – but it’s no less creepy: a similar experience to catching a stranger’s eye on a public bus (in a bad way).
The puppet and high-tech software inside it have remained surprisingly intact through the first 6 weeks of the exhibition. The material is “intrinsically colored Polyurethane Elastomer”, a substance used in skateboard wheels and industrial applications. The paint however, is not fairing as well.
Below are two photographs: one taken just before the opening, and another a few weeks into the run.
It’s worth noting that the title is “Colored Sculpture”, and yet it is the “color” that is notably disappearing with each successive drag across the concrete floor. I’m betting that this self-vandalism was Wolfson’s full intention, but it brings up an age-old question for collectors and museums in general: Should an art object be “turned off” or rarely shown in order to preserve it, or should a work live hard and fast as the artist intended, even if that shortens our time with it. I vote for the latter. Either way, go see this now while you still can, and if you saw it 5 weeks ago, go again.