Art In Unexpected Places: The Broad Without Walls

Apr 26, 2012

Starting Saturday, people walking the streets of East Lansing or wandering the Michigan State University campus will be stumbling up art projects in unlikely places.

The Broad Without Walls is a project of the Broad Art Museum, opening at MSU this fall.

Almost 40 artists from Michigan submitted proposals for the project, and eight have been chosen. Their work will be found at places like the drinking fountain inside the Kresge Art Center on campus, the lobby of the Marriott University Place hotel, and the alley behind Ned’s Bookstore.

WKAR’s Scott Pohl spoke with the museum’s curator of contemporary art, Alison Gass. She’s intrigued by the notion of people encountering art when they aren’t expecting it.

ALISON GASS:  We really struggled with the idea of we’re we going to put up wall labels next to these installations? I think we’re going to have a very small sticker that will say “this is part of The Broad Without Walls; for more information, visit our website.”

I really want people to just happen upon these things and think what is this? This wasn’t here yesterday…and slowly come to the realization that this is art in a store window, or a woman doing a performance in front of Espresso Royale, and then all of a sudden it shifts your expectations about what art is. You start thinking about maybe every experience you have that day a little bit differently.

The viewer helps build the art

SCOTT POHL:  To me, when people encounter this sort of thing this far in advance of the actual opening of the museum, it’s a good way to lay the groundwork for what people might find interesting once the museum is open.

GASS:   I think that’s very true. To me, contemporary art is not ever going to be able to be defined as one thing. It’s a performance, it’s a painting, it’s a sculpture, it’s even just an idea. I think the different kinds of installations you’ll see and projects you’ll see through The Broad Without Walls are very much evident of the kind of thing we may be showing in terms of different objects, different performances, things that you might not expect. Absolutely, these are the kinds of things that will continue when we open the building.

POHL:   With my limited knowledge of modern art, one installation that I read about that I found most interesting, passersby will be invited to add to, contribute to. It will grow during the next couple of weeks.

GASS:   I love the idea of a collaborative art project, and that’s something that a lot of contemporary artists are doing. An artist will have a seed of an idea, and everybody who’s involved in it will be invited to literally participate, to make art. That’s a very important way to learn about art, to make art.

The project that you’re referring to is Kate Lewis, who’s going to be doing a huge ceramic installation. She’s made these little petals, or delicate pieces of clay that she’ll start pinning to a wall. She’ll have a big basket of them, and everybody who comes can add this little piece of clay, this little petal, to the wall. In the end, what you’ll see is this wall covered with a constellation of objects in a whole pattern, a whole different sense of rhythm and texture will be accessible on the wall, but every little piece will be a record of some visitor, of some participant. It really is not just a community event, but a community art work.

POHL:   That will be where?

GASS: That’s actually going to be in the (SCENE) Metrospace Gallery. It’s not going to be part of the (SCENE) Metrospace exhibition; it’ll just be a separate event. We’ll leave that up for a few weeks so people will have a chance to go in and add to it. We’ll document it on our website. Every day it changes, that kind of thing.

Caring for outdoor installations

POHL:  With some of the installations that are outdoors, it occurs to me that you might need to be in touch with the authorities in East Lansing, to make sure that things are left alone, and or protected as needed.

GASS:   I need to give a big thanks to the city of East Lansing, who’s worked very hard for us, to help us get the permits, to work with the business owners to allow them to take this risk and let us put up who knows what in front of their buildings.

Part of the project here is that, and we’ve talked with the artists about this, these are works that will necessarily deteriorate in the course of their lives outdoors, so they’re really kind of ephemeral projects. They’re really not like a bronze sculpture that’s meant to withstand an outdoor environment forever and ever. These are really things that will be put up, and as they start to deteriorate, that’s part of the process in some sense. You really see something living and being impacted by the outdoors. The deal we’ve made: if it deteriorates to the point of not even feeling like itself anymore, we may take it down a little bit early, but we’ll watch the process of deterioration, and that’s really part of it. It’s kind of exciting!