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"Five Senses" Involves and Interacts with Visitors at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art

Olafur Eliasson, Beauty, 1993. Spotlight, water, nozzles, hose and electric pump, dimensions variable. Installation view at Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo.
Olafur Eliasson, Beauty, 1993. Spotlight, water, nozzles, hose and electric pump, dimensions variable. Installation view at Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo.
Image courtesy of the artist, Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York and neugerriemschneider, Berlin. © Olafur Eliasson. Photo: Jens Ziehe

I've been able to see, touch, and hear art -- maybe even smell it -- in numerous exhibitions I've visited, but getting to take a piece of the artwork in a museum and eat it is a new one for me.

"Five Senses" at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art hits every innate sense from taste to touch in an interactive collection of installation art. From Janet Cardiff's enveloping The Forty Part Motet (2001) to Olafur Eliasson's resonating Beauty (1993), this exhibit works to involve visitors every step of the way.

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Included in the show is the work of five internationally recognized artists that assistant curator Claire C. Carter says she came across during her visits to such cities as Berlin, New York, Chicago, and London. These works left a lasting impression on her, not because of what she saw but because of what she felt. The idea to connect them through the senses came after she began planning the works for the show.

Upon entering the exhibit, visitors first come across American artist Spencer Finch's 2 Hours, 2 Minutes, 2 Seconds (2007). It first appears that this is just an elaborate display of office fans, but, on closer inspection, you notice that not all fans are going at the same speed or at the same time. Finch modeled this piece after the wind at Walden Pond. It is a nod to American transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau's autobiographical report of his time spent in nature in Concord, Massachusetts. Standing in front of the fans, it feels as if you are standing on the rim of the pond with the wind softly and coolly blowing on your skin.

In the same space behind a partition is the most aesthetically inspiring work in "Five Senses" -- Olafur Eliasson's Beauty. An enclosed dark pathway leads visitors around a corner where they are struck with a misty rainbow dancing in the middle of the room. The room, built specifically for the Eliasson work, projects the mist from a stream in the ceiling and a single light cast colors onto the wall of water.

The effect is breathtaking.

Beauty is one of Eliasson's early works and plays with a simple concept of blending light and water. What is most impactful about this presentation of Beauty, however, is that in the background you can hear the angelic voices of Cardiff's The Forty Part Motet in the next room. As Carter describes, it is a presentation of the work never before imagined by the two artists, but they work together symbiotically to create a resplendent experience.

Cardiff's piece is said to move people to tears, which at first to me sounded a bit dramatic. However, it is truly a sublime experience to sit in a room surrounded with the sound of a choral arrangement by 16th-century composer Thomas Tallis emanating from 40 speakers.

Each speaker plays the voice of a different member of the choir, so that when visitors walk around the room they hear an alternative interpretation of the piece. In the middle of the room, Carter placed benches for people to sit; when you close your eyes it is almost as if you have been transported to a cathedral.

 

Roelof Louw, Soul City (Pyramid of Oranges), 1967. 6,000 oranges, dimensions variable.
Roelof Louw, Soul City (Pyramid of Oranges), 1967. 6,000 oranges, dimensions variable.
Courtesy of the artist and Richard Saltoun, London. © Roelof Louw

In the final gallery are two pieces that strike on the sense of smell. Roelof Louw's Soul City (Pyramid of Oranges) (1967) sits on one side of the room with its sharp citrus scent, and Ernesto Neto's Cai Cai Marrom (2007) hangs from the ceiling emitting the rich spices of turmeric, pepper and cinnamon. Neto's piece is created from stockings filled with spices and resembles a structure that is animal-like and organic.

Louw's orange pyramid is perhaps the most tangible work in "Five Senses" because visitors are encouraged to take oranges directly from the pile and eat them. Carter remarks that this piece mocks a common museum policy that doesn't allow eating in the galleries, but here the artist is welcoming it. The orange is also the symbol of a gift given directly to viewers by the artist. And the oranges are restocked often, so visitors need not worry about the quality of the fruit they are consuming.

With only five works in the exhibit, I worried that it might be too simple, but each piece is so poignant and transcendent that any more would make the show seem cluttered. While the works by Finch and Neto are less involving, the Cardiff and Eliasson pieces are the ones I found myself gushing to my friends about later because they were simply inspiring.

And the orange from Louw makes for a great afternoon snack.

"Five Senses" is on view at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art through Sunday, May 4. The museum is open noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Sunday, and noon to 9:00 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. Admission is $7 for adults and free on Thursdays. Visit www.smoca.org or call 480-874-4666.

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