Peter Coffin re-animates hung paintings with video art

Peter Coffin’s Here & There exhibit at the Hirshhorn Museum is deeply engaging. For years the Anti-Humbaba Action Coalition has been protesting against pinning art to walls.  While most natural history museums no longer adhere to nineteenth-century display practices, art galleries have progressed more slowly.  What can art galleries do with paintings and drawings encased in frames?  Even two-dimensional art that isn’t firmly framed is typically designed to be hung.  It’s like a death wish for art.

Peter Coffin gives new life to art that was hung long ago.  In Here & There, Coffin has created an experiential space with fourteen historically influential paintings hung on the walls.  Visitors entering the space encounter images moving within the paintings and across the walls.  Added sound changes moods and cues images.  But the added sound doesn’t function as a strong, external emotional control on experience.  The video likewise doesn’t autopsy the individual bodies of hung art.  The video animates the hung art and brings it into interactions across the space.  The installation creates a space of heightened sensibility.  It prompts persons within it to participate in that heightened sensibility within their own bodies and memories.

Hidden in a corridor next to the elevator on the third floor of the Hirshhorn is Coffin’s One Minute Whale Breach.  It’s a looped video showing on a conventional television form.  The loop shows continual movement across perspectives on the whale, sea, and sky.  The installation on the lower level takes that dynamism to a lower, more visceral level of sensory processing.

Re-animating hung paintings correlates with enlivening video.  Video projection and display technology are advancing rapidly.  Video now has much more freedom not to be screened by a flat, fixed reflective rectangle.  Projecting video on artistically interesting material can create a new experiential space.  That’s an exciting direction for new media.

Peter Coffin’s Here & There is at the Hirshhorn through Oct. 6, 2013.  It’s a must-be-there event.

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Video experience of Coffin’s installation live at the Hirshhorn included above.  Coffin’s installation builds upon the following artworks from the Hirshhorn’s collection (in clockwise order around the room): Man Ray, Shakespearean Equation: King Lear; Pablo Picasso, Woman in a Hat (Marie-Therese Walter); Louise Nevelson, Untitled (1954); John Singer Sargent, Catherine Viasto; Louis Eilshemius, The Flood; Jasper Johns, 0 through 9; Richard Lindner, New York City IV; John Wesley, Hans Christian Andersen; Jack Hamilton Bush, Jay Totem; Alice Acheson, Cane Fields; Willem de Kooning, Untitled III (1981); Edward Hopper, Hotel by a Railroad; Burgoyne Diller, Interplay (No. 3 Second Theme); Carroll Cloar, Sun Sinking into Tyronza River.

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