The Shed has pulled out all the stops for multi-tasker Tomás Saraceno – a visionary Argentine artist and environmentalist celebrity who ranks among the world’s biggest spider-whisperers – giving him management of three of his four public spaces, approximately 28,000 square feet. And Saraceno appears to have returned the favor, curating a revealing but noble survey of his work in makeshift galleries, as well as two inspiring installations elsewhere in the building. The set is titled “Tomas Saraceno: particular question(s)”.
The most ambitious of these is a Shed commission that can make you feel, quite literally, weak in the knees. “Free the Air: How to Hear the Universe in a Spider’s Web” is, in essence, the piece de resistance of this entire enterprise. Later.
The smaller installation, “Museo Aero Solar”, presented in a third large space, is centered on a huge sphere that looks like a tent and is actually a balloon on the ground made of plastic grocery bags – it has the look fantastic, like a crazy colorful and translucent quilt and visitors can walk in and walk around. It is one of the projects of the Aerocene Foundation, a global crowdsourcing group led by Saraceno and dedicated to the development of flight without fuel – powered only by the movements of the wind and the sun.
The exhibition and the installations together form something like the complete Saraceno: an educational part; partial collaboration; part of the out-of-body experience, with different types of beauty strung throughout. “Particular Matter(s)” is labeled the largest presentation of the artist’s work in the United States. The set was curated by Emma Enderby, the Shed’s general curator, with Alessandra Gómez and Adeze Wilford, her assistant curators. The Shed exhibit is usefully complemented by Saraceno’s performance at his longtime representative, the Gallery Tanya Bonakdar at Chelsea.
Saraceno is not so much an artist as a polymath on a mission and his endeavors often feel more like science than art. The Shed’s various exhibits reflect, to varying degrees, his activities as an arachnophile, artist, architect, activist, teacher, musician, environmentalist and social justice advocate for an air pure. Its overarching goal could simply be summed up as getting humans to live right. It is about making them realize that they are not the top of a pyramid of power in what is called the Anthropocene era, but that they exist on a horizontal plane with all non- human beings, to which they must be made aware and with which they have a great deal to do. to learn. And they exist in what Saraceno prefers to call the Aerocene era in which interspecies cooperation and clean air are needed.
That said, one might wonder how someone with Saraceno’s acute environmental awareness allows his work to be shown at the Shed. Certainly the building, or at least its exterior, may be the best part of the civic disaster and failure of will that is Hudson Yards, perhaps the worst of this city’s many recent self-inflicted architectural wounds. .
Saraceno’s quest was inspired by spiders and the ingenious basis of their aerial way of life – the multifunctional webs that provide shelter, protection, food and, when vibrating, a means of communication. Cobwebs also served as models for levitating sculptures. Composed of translucent webs and orbs, they have become Saraceno’s best-known work, of which “Free the Air” is the latest example.
The exhibition part of “Tomas Saraceno Particular Matter(s)” begins with the silent spectacle of his collaborations with spiders: in a darkened gallery, seven plexiglass boxes each containing several different connected webs, all shimmering white. Each web was constructed by a different species of spider on a sturdy wire frame in Saraceno’s workshop, where he watches their progress, changing one species and introducing another as he sees fit. Especially in the dark, these pale, ghostly crystalline structures make you appreciate all we already owe to spiders, since their webs provided early humans with precedents for architecture and textiles.
To the amateur eye, the webs of the various species here generally divide into grids, often in fan-shaped expanses, fluffy canopies and crazy masses of strands that can look like pick-up sticks suspended in the air. . The combinations are stunning, evocative of modern architecture and, due to the abrupt changes in pattern and rhythm, brushstrokes or music. Information about which spiders worked in each display (how many members of which species for how long) is, unfortunately, only found on a label outside the gallery; it should be available on a document.
From there, the theme shifts to air pollution, which endangers spiders and humans alike, especially the infinitesimal respirable grains of carbon called particles. In one corner, you’ll see “Arachnomancy,” a deck of tarot cards printed with particle-based ink that pays homage to the spider soothsayers of Cameroon.
Occupying three neighboring walls, ‘We don’t all breathe the same air’, another Shed commission, tackles inequalities in air pollution, which divide race more than class, according to Harriet A. Washington, author of “Medical Apartheid”, who has written about environmental racism and contributes an essay to the catalog. The works consist of seven large, framed pieces of paper that measure pollution at various locations in seven states over two years. Pollution degrees are in rows of dots ranging from almost invisible to very dark. They look nicely minimalist, but illustrate in stark terms this country’s inequities when it comes to clean air.
The last two galleries of the exhibition return to the aesthetics of the canvases. “Sounding the Air” consists of five long, thick strands made from multiple threads of cobweb silk. The lights directed towards the strands make them undulate; via camera and computer, these movements are translated into sounds that sound like avant-garde music. In “How to entangle the universe of a spider/web?” a laser repeatedly scans through an extended expanse of cobwebs. The result is a seemingly cosmic, shifting red splendor. His message? The cobwebs are much more complicated than suggested in the show’s opening gallery.
In the final gallery, “A Thermodynamic Imagination,” Saraceno uses large Plexiglas spheres, web-like threads and cords, small squiggles of glass and their shadows to evoke planetary motion and even an eclipse in a stunning installation. but terribly conventional. But a fascinating video broadcast on the left wall of this gallery lets us glimpse the black aerosol sculptures, resembling three-dimensional kites; they are part of the “Museo Aero Solar” project being tested at Salinas Grandes in Argentina. Watching the sculptures rise up and away from the tiny figures on the ground is an exciting sight.
If you’ve read the wall texts all the way through, you might find this exhibit a little strenuous, but you might have learned a lot and might feel slightly more optimistic about the fate of the planet. It helps to know that respite awaits in the installation’s rooms, especially the soothing “Free the Air,” Saraceno’s large white sphere (95 feet in diameter) that more or less devoured the space. McCourt. Inside, two are a pair of steel webs resembling a trampoline. The luminous space darkens, while visitors, seated or lying down, listen and feel a 20-minute concert: the vibrations of a composition derived from recorded movements of air particles. It can take you, briefly, out of this world.
The show at Tanya Bonakdar, 521 West 21st Street, is sort of a continuation of The Shed’s. It focuses on the black polyester rope installations for which Saraceno became known. Stretchy strings criss-cross white space with elaborate spherical structures at their intersections. These look like stars, snowflakes, magnified particles and, of course, cobwebs – equipped with live mics connected to active speakers. Visitors are allowed to touch them, causing vibrations, like spiders in their webs.
The sum of these two exhibits, but especially that of The Shed, is a much deeper appreciation of what Saraceno’s love of spiders has set in motion. Whether you like these creatures or not, they contribute to a better future.
Tomás Saraceno: Specific question(s)
Through April 17 at The Shed, 545 West 30th Street, Manhattan; 646-455-3494, theshed.org.