As the lacquered disc in Robert Irwin’s Untitled (1965–67) generates an optical illusion on the MCA’s wall, someone across the gallery sneers, “That’s disgusting. How could you even think that? Oh, that’s sick. How can you be that sick?” It’s Tony Oursler’s adjacent installation Guilty (pictured): The woman spouting accusatory remarks is a projection on a pillow, which is squashed by a mattress.
Culled from the MCA’s collection, “Without You I’m Nothing: Art and Its Audience” is devoted to art’s relationship to its viewers. Oursler’s piece represents a type of engagement different from that of more subdued works, like Irwin’s. Its creepy spectacle taps into the human tendency to turn toward the awful or obscene.
This exhibition makes us extra cognizant of our knee-jerk reactions to art, whether we’re dazzled, distracted, startled or amused. One gallery highlights visual engagement, the other, physical interaction, all accompanied by thoughtful, detailed wall text.
Andrea Zittel’s A-Z Cellular Compartment Unit (2001) welcomes visitors to climb inside and delight in the structure’s brilliant and functional tiny living space. We must also interact with Chris Burden’s The Other Vietnam Memorial to appreciate it: Etched with the names of 3 million Vietnamese people (real and imaginary), the Rolodex-like sculpture symbolizes those killed during the United States’ involvement in Vietnam. The gravity of the seemingly endless names is only apparent close up.
“Without You I’m Nothing” picks up an exciting momentum as it shifts from light-hearted moments to more meditative ones, and makes us ask more than once, “How could we be that sick?”
The exhibition’s Interactions performance series begins Tuesday 4.