The Five Senses begins with a simple premise: five senses, five works of art. However, as with many perceptual, cognitive and phenomenological questions, a more complex web of interrelationships emerges under closer examination. It is natural to assume one will see, or even hear art in a contemporary art space; it is more challenging to imagine smelling, tasting or touching objects at a museum. More importantly, despite their clear distinctions, the senses remain inextricable—one cannot experience any one of them independently.
The imaginative sculptures in this exhibition activate the body and mind, crossing boundaries and dodging museum conventions. Spencer Finch’s careful synchronization of electric fans, 2 hours, 2 minutes, 2 seconds (Wind at Walden Pond, March 12, 2007) melds the unexpected, visceral thrill of wind to the romance of Henry David Thoreau’s cherished nature and creates a liminal space between nature and technology, body and mind. Beauty, an installation by Olafur Eliasson, constructs an experience of sensory contrasts—shifts between darkness and light, warm and cool, dry and damp—that amplify the spectacular visual experience of standing amidst water and a beautiful spectrum of fractured light. The stretched, sagging, globular forms of Ernesto Neto’s spice-filled structures infuse the gallery in rich scents and incite awareness of the architecture around the sculpture. Roelof Louw’s colorful pyramid of 6,000 ripe oranges perched atop one another invite the visitor to choose a piece of fruit—enabling one to taste, see, smell and feel. In Janet Cardiff’s audio installation, The Forty Part Motet, the haunting tones of a 40-voice choral composition from the 16th century drift between the same number of speakers, each projecting an individual choral singer.
As these impressive artworks demonstrate, prescribing one’s rich sensory perception to five simple categories is naive. Our awareness of space, time, light, sound, taste and touch is intimately personal and much richer than audition, taste, touch, sight and smell. Janet Cardiff, Olafur Eliasson, Spencer Finch, Roelof Louw and Ernesto Neto’s forthright works inspire a sense of awe and wonderment in the most simple of acts.
Organized by the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art
Sponsored by Dorothy Lincoln-Smith and Sande Deitch