Museums and galleries are finding surprising ways to combat dwindling attendance. Because of the convenience of imagery granted us by the internet it is difficult to remember that most art is sensory, inaccessible through a screen.
It seems that the art world is responding by staging events that can only be seen in person. This new breed of art event can often be distinguished from the happenings of ages past by the sheer amount of hype surrounding them. For example, New York City residents and tourists waited in line all day for MoMA's Rain Room without any guarantee that they would make it inside.
Retrospectives of James Turrell, Robert Irwin, and Yayoi Kusama offered sensory immersion that dragged art audiences out of their armchairs and into the museums. We are even seeing the blatant exploitation of fame to increase art viewership with Jay Z's performance of Picasso Baby at Pace Gallery or Tilda Swinton sleeping at the MoMA.
Upon entering Doug Wheeler's recent installation at David Zwirner Gallery one is plunged into complete disorientation. The room has been turned into a featureless dome of colored light. The light creeps up the walls from the perimeter, the only thing upon which the eye can rest. This horizon-less landscape is hypnotically ambiguous, like an endless tundra. As my eyes swept forward and back, trying to take hold of something. I had the sensation that I might be leaning oddly forward but couldn't be sure. Struggling to find what was vertical I turned toward the chasm-like opening through which I entered. With this in view, the room became a sort of inverted igloo. Suddenly I could orient myself and find my way out.
All this has been to say that Wheeler's installation seems to be another addition to a larger trend in art. The luminous cavern created in Zwirner's West 20th street gallery is truly an experience. An experience which begins with a polite request that one take a seat and wait, continues to the soft white booties viewers are asked to don before entering and ends with the full body immersion into illusion and light.