Seeing the World through Art

2010s Education Exhibitions Staff Youth

An installation by artist Gaylen Gerber sparks big-picture questions among young people visiting the MCA for the first time.

Gaylen Gerber had done a series of works where the walls were painted, as well as these paintings. And they’re very monochromatic, large-scale works, but essentially, the installation is important as the works on the walls. The painting of the walls continued essentially outside the gallery, around the corner. So these kids, who had never been to the MCA before were talking about what the paintings could mean, and one of the artist guides said, “Well, where is the beginning of the painting?”

Then two of those students had to walk outside the gallery space and then realized that the color continued around the corner. Then they couldn’t work out whether that was the edge of the painting, or whether the painting continued. So these kids, these young people, who had never experienced contemporary art, really, on a large scale, began to talk about where is the edge of the painting, what does it mean, what does installation mean, why would the artist color the walls and then put the pictures inside a space that’s colored? What does that mean when the colors are talking to each other? Where is the edge of meaning? So essentially they were talking about where the edge of meaning, and where does something begin and where does something end. That conversation then began to talk about, well, in urban planning, in the city, what does it mean for an edge of a public park or what does it mean for the edge of a subway, or what does the sense of what is part of something as in private, and what is part of something which is public?

So I think for me it’s the moments you’re in the gallery and the work triggers those kinds of incredibly complicated, those socio-economic, kind of political conversations, and the works can either trigger them because they have—they’re directly addressing that, or in this case, they’re not. The work was very much playing with aesthetic, playing with kind of color field painting, and then all of the sudden you have this moment where kids are relating that to the world outside.  

Installation view, Gaylen Gerber, MCA Chicago, May 25–Sep 8, 2013. Image courtesy of the artist and Tom Van Eynde.

Installation view, Gaylen Gerber, MCA Chicago, May 25–Sep 8, 2013. Image courtesy of the artist and Tom Van Eynde.

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