The Cornell Art Museum’s ingeniously presented new exhibition, “Seven Solos,” is really seven exhibitions for the price of one. Each of the museum’s six galleries—plus the atrium—is essentially its own playground for one of seven artists hand-picked to create a site-specific installation.
Each space is a self-contained universe, a distilled worldview, a shimmering statement. The unpredictable singularity carries from gallery to gallery, retaining an aura of mystery and grandiosity. It’s like the old Monty Hall puzzle, “what’s behind door No. 1?”, except every surprise is a welcome one.
Curator Melanie Johanson conceived of the concept after the success of last spring’s “Flora” exhibition, with its memorable walk-through hanging flower garden. Immersive installations have continued to be a part of the Cornell’s thematic group exhibitions ever since, but never isolated like this—even though, with its inherently segmented galleries, the building is ideally structured for it.
Most viewers will start with the most ambitious piece we’ve seen yet from Alex Trimino, the fastidiously consistent Miami artist renowned for her retro-futuristic, mixed-media amalgams of neon, fiber and, at least in this case, found objects. Stretching 26 feet from the top of the building to the bottom of the atrium, “Luminaria 1” is a towering totem of early and contemporaneous technologies flowing in an abstract continuum. As is often the case with Trimino, I find the work aesthetically dazzling—the artist as mad scientist or vice versa, always challenging herself to build a better mousetrap—but subtextually impenetrable, and reliant on the accompanying wall text to fully appreciate.
From this grounding center, visitors can atomize and go any which way; part of the fun of “Seven Solos” is the freeing absence of order. I stayed on the ground level first, entering Giannina Coppiano Dwin and Freddy Jouwayed’s environmental warning “Ebb & Flow,” in which Dwin filled a heptagonal platform with 2,000 pounds of table salt shaped into the arid remnants of a shoreline. Dual screens project Jouwayed’s faint images of rippling water, palm trees and cityscapes on either side of the salty tableau, but it feels parched, degraded, dead—a stark visualization of a receded ocean in our anthropocene age.
Miya Ando, whose ruminative gallery “Water Moon” includes three pieces of evocative, lunar-themed wall art, is centered on the eight silk panels dangling from the ceiling, among which visitors can walk. But the impact is maximized when you sit on the bench at the far end of the gallery and stare at the panels head-on: Though each is subtly different in design, they appear to flow into one another, resembling a single silkscreen growing closer and closer in a perceptual trick of the eye.
Upstairs, I started with Frank Hyder’s striking “Janis” series, which has already exhibited in Pennsylvania and New York. “Filled with air and social concerns,” in the artist’s parlance, the series consists, in this instance, of six inflatable, two-faced heads of graduated sizes greeting visitors like colorful Christmas decorations blown up on your neighbor’s lawn. But Hyder’s Janises aren’t kids’ stuff. With their stripes and bald heads and earrings, they appear androgynous and—because their hues constantly change from lights installed inside—are both colorful and colorlessin terms of race, ethnicity or other categories society would assert. Visitors are encouraged to walk among them, like the heads on Easter Island. It’s a trippy, provocative gallery, and it literally hums with energy.
A hushed atmosphere greets Brookhart Jonquil’s “Saturn Rings the Sunrise Bells,” in which all of the gallery’s windows are blacked out, drawing attention to the handful of geometrically precise objects combining fluorescent lights and one-way mirrors. The title sculpture is the most impressive of all—in which three fluorescent tubes zigzag inside a mirrored, slanted cube, the reflections of the tubes creating the effect of a jumble of Pick-Up Sticks—but all add depth and dimension as spectators encircle and inspect them from different angles. “A Clear Vision of the Things to Come” is especially dense from an optical perspective; it’s a hanging, Escher-like structure of triangles within triangles.
Rounding out the exhibition are two rooms that feel correlated, because the peaceful music from one bleeds into, and harmonizes with, the similar zen space of the other. In Shinduk Kang’s “Heaven & Earth: Land 2019,” fabric mostly covers an expansive window, and flows to the ground, terminating across the other side of the gallery like a motley bridal train; a separate yellow fabric ushers spectators toward a bench in the center of the gallery—an ordinary space that, in Kang’s ethereal transformation, feels like a sanctuary.
Little did I know I was saving the best for last. Jacob M. Fisher’s “To Hold a Time, Your Eyes, Forever,” just across from Kang’s space, is an even warmer balm of tranquility. The gallery consists of light forms projected onto walls and washing over strings dangling from the ceiling, though no description of the materials can do justice to the magic of this room. Chairs and beanbags are arranged at strategic points throughout the gallery; sit or lay on them, and the strings appear to be falling on you like a shower, then rhythmically rising up, defying gravity.
In other words, the strings seem to be breathing, and the room itself feels positively alive, causing a sensation not unlike that of certain psychedelics. Like any great art, the cumulative effect is far more transportive then each individual part. You need to see this.
“Seven Solos” runs through Oct. 6 at Cornell Art Museum, 51 N. Swinton Ave., Delray Beach. Admission is $8 general and $5 students and seniors. Call 561/243-7922 or visit oldschoolsquare.org.