Exhibition Paper, Rachel Olguin

Rachel Olguin

ARTH 3539

Kira van Lil

30 April 2012

Exhibition Review: Robert Therrien

            Over spring break I had the chance to go to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and view an exhibit on the artist Robert Therrien. Before going I had no idea who the artist was or had I seen any of his work; afterward I was very impressed by his large and disproportional sculptures. The exhibition was around the corner from an exhibition of the infamous Claude Monet. This was obviously the more popular exhibit at the time and was slightly annoying because of an alarm going off every five seconds due to visitors leaning in too closely to the precious canvases. Nonetheless, I escaped the Monet madness and happened upon this delightful display of work by Robert Therrien.

Therrien was born in Chicago in 1947 and has been working out of Los Angeles since 1971. He earned his Master of Fine Arts at the University of Southern California and has also held many solo and group exhibitions in his thirty-some year career. It was cool to learn about an artist that works out of my hometown, especially after enjoying the work he had to offer so much.

As I walked around the newly built dividing walls I came across a giant white sculpture. Humorous in size, I realized that the objects were dramatically oversized plates, one stacked on top of the other. The piece was about seven feet tall and sat in a sectioned off bit of wall so that its viewer had the ability to walk around it and view it from all sides. Curious, I came around the next corner, only to find another large stack of dishes. This time the sculpture was of bright blue bowls and plates stacked in a precarious manner that only induced a slight feeling of anxiety over the weariness of the balance that the objects were somehow maintaining. Each piece was cast from either an enamel, plastic and/or resin base and, other than its size, looked like actual dishware one would find in their cupboards.

I was incredibly intrigued by the way in which this exhibit continued in the spacious and bright white room; all of Therrien’s artwork had its own little pre-destined cubicle. The size of each of his sculptures is what made this setup so effective. Not only is each piece glorified in its own wake but by also having its own little room, so to speak, each piece is enabled in its full engagement with its audience. Size, in this show, was an important aspect in conveying the artist’s truths to the viewer. It transformed our perceptions of objects that we use and encounter on a daily basis. Not only were the cubicle walls twenty feet high, their all-encompassing length about the sectioned off space provided a barrier to the audience against knowledge of the rest of the room. The high walls also allowed for the viewer to change in size. When standing next to objects that could normally fit into my own hands, I became a little ant in a giant’s world. This helped to convey the somewhat surrealistic nature of Therrien’s sculptures.

These first two sculptures were also interesting in the ways that they personified the represented objects. The stacked dishes took on an animated personality due to the playfulness of their size and positioning. I was just waiting for a happy little tune to start playing in the background (instead all I heard was that hideous beeping from the Monet exhibit on the other side of the room). Even though the surroundings were bare and minimal, the objects invoked the imagination of those interacting with them.

Around the next corner I found a slightly more decorated room containing a large black object that was morphing itself in a still motion up into the air. Upon closer investigation I realized that the black mass was representative of two beds that were pushed together and twisted up into a cylindrical form. The animation of everyday objects still very much existed in this piece. It almost appeared as though the beds were in some sort of ritual dance and I was intruding on a private moment. This third sculpture is a good example of the surrealist nature of Therrien’s art. It transports the viewer into an alternate reality, one where everything that is normally strange appears to be strangely normal. In any other circumstance, coming across two dancing, twisting, twirling beds would be bizarre and unnatural. Therrien’s choice in material, single color and simplicity of display transforms the viewer’s perceptions of what is “normal”. I felt as though I were the intruder on a sacred act as opposed to entering this section of the exhibit and looking at the piece and thinking, “Oh, that’s not right. What is going on here?”

The fun aspect of Therrien’s work also adds to this normalcy perception by making the encounters of these sculptures something that can be played with and experienced only by the individual that comes across each environment. It allows each person’s own imagination to create the narrative that goes with the plates, the bowls or the beds. This is important because it forces the audience to confront why each piece is there, how it got there and what it is doing.

All of these aspects of Therrien’s work were incredibly well supported by the style and setup of the exhibit itself. Each facet of display seemed simple enough, but also well thought out. Knowing that each work needed to stand on its own in order to achieve its full potential gave the collection as a whole a larger kind of power. This power enabled each piece to be separate but still work together on a much larger scale.

This larger scale presented Therrien’s work in a fun, playful and thought-provoking light. All of these attributes are essential to this artist’s artwork and it was really obvious that the way in which his art was displayed truly enhanced and brought attention to these themes. After walking around and venturing into every little cubicle it was fun to make up a story about each sculpture. I made the full round and then got to connect each piece together in the grander scheme of things, thus using my own imagination to give life to the oversized and animated objects. I really enjoyed seeing this exhibit and hope to see more of Therrien’s work in the future. Hopefully since he lives in Los Angeles I will be able to access his work most easily.

5 Responses

  1. Rachel, I enjoyed your exhibition response. I wish I had been there as I enjoy surreal scupture, as well as Monet. Unfortunately, I would have been one of the individuals annoying you with my unhindered approach towards the precious canvases (they make sense close up). I feel you touched on important things in your review, namely materality and scale. I bet the experience of the stacked plates was incredible. What do you think this says about our habits as humans when we confront every day objects in disproportionate sizes face to face? I enjoyed your experience with the beds, especially when you said you felt like an intruder in a scared act. Certainly the bedroom is an intimate place for individuals and those in relationships.

  2. Rachel- Great Response paper! I have never heard of Therrien either and you did a great job of creating interest in the artist. I found myself googling him half way through readying your paper! It is always nice to find an artist from your hometown as well, as it helps you relate to an artist and their experiences!

  3. This is a very well written paper! I particularly enjoyed your description of the two black beds intertwined, and how you felt like you were “intruding on a private moment.” I understood the surreality of these everyday objects in a strange new context and could imagine the tension that the “morphing” created in the piece. You’ve certainly inspired my to visit Therrien’s personal website to view some works myself.!

  4. This was a great paper! I am so interested in Therrien’s work now that I have read your response. I live in Los Angeles too and I can’t wait to see what he brings to the town next. I would have definitely did what you did when looking at the sculptures and making up your own story. When you said “everything that is normally strange appears to be strangely normal,” I thought that was a great description of his work (after I looked up his work).

  5. Although I have never been to LACMA, or heard of Therrien, I almost instantly started to gain interest in him and his work. Just the thought of standing next to a stack of massive plates in a small, high room sounds very novel and exciting. The way you describe the exhibit conjures thoughts of being in a giant’s cupboard, how whimsical. It is also interesting that Therrien chooses to produce his works in resin and similar materials, as this seems to have been, and still be a favorite choice for contemporary sculpture artists, especially those working out of L.A. On a side note, if you are interested in the L.A. art scene and how it got its relatively recent start, then I would definitely recommend you watch “The Cool School”. Its an outrageously entertaining documentary about the core group of west-coast artists who initially made a name for LA and helped put it on the map, it also happens to be pretty informative as well. Good paper!

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