Carl Andre’s 144 Pieces of Zinc is one of the few artworks in the Museum’s Collection that is meant to be experienced physically, and that visitors may touch. The artist felt that the qualities inherent in the material were the most important aspect of his work, and that they were meant to be discovered through touch.
Imagine 144 Pieces of Zinc wasn’t in a museum, but, say, come upon in a hardware store surrounded by a bunch of home improvement tiles. You don’t have to imagine. The Tate Museum did it. They installed their collection’s 144 Magnesium Square on the floor in a hardware store in Liverpool, England, and then asked residents of Liverpool what they thought about seeing the minimalist work in a non-art context.
As you see in the video, people have strong feelings about this sort of thing…
Most artworks in the Museum Collection are untouchable. Inaccessible. Some visitors may feel alienated, unwelcome, and intimidated by them. Some artworks are so theory-based, they seem impossible to comprehend. Other artworks are just pretty to look at, and there is no need to engage with them on any deep level to enjoy their aesthetic power.
I think that 144 Pieces of Zinc works powerfully on both theoretical and aesthetic levels.
And, when you touch the tiles in 144 Pieces of Zinc, you become a part of the artwork. You are part of the Museum, and the work becomes yours for the moment you interact with it. That moment of your unique interaction is the artwork: the sound of the tiles shifting under your feet; the sound and feel of the soles of your heels touching the surface, resounding through the square; the reactions of the people around you.
You can experience 144 Pieces of Zinc, a sculpture that essentially changes the definition of what a sculpture can be, in the Museum’s Gallery #21 with Modern and Contemporary works.
What other artworks in the Museum’s Collection may be experienced in more than a visual way?
Pol Bury, Living Tree [Colonne-Erectile], 1964— If you know where to look (or ask a Museum staff member) there is a button you can push to watch the “tree” come to life. (This artwork is currently not on display.)
Harry Bertoia sculptures— Harry Bertoia’s sound sculptures, like Dandelion, 1970, may not be touched in the Museum’s collection galleries, but at one time, they were meant to be played as musical instruments. So that you have a chance to know what they sound like, here is a Youtube video, which demonstrates their aural magic.
You can listen to the vibrations of the sculptures as Val Bertoia activates a barn full of the artist’s sculptures all at once. (The lesson here: Unless your last name is Bertoia, don’t touch the Bertoia sculptures…) In order to preserve the fragile sculptures for future generations, the Museum’s sculptures lie dormant exhibiting only their visual beauty.
You can visit several Bertoia sculptures in the Museum’s Bradley Collection of Modern Art on the upper level.
Stanley Landsman’s Infinity Chamber— This visitor favorite must be experienced. The brief moment of vertigo when walking in, the heat from the light bulbs and tight quarters, the mystery of the construction, the intimacy of experiencing it with one other friend are all part of it. You don’t just look at this artwork. According to the artist, it’s “like being with God.” How can you resist that? (This artwork is currently not on display.)