The New York City curators behind Thin Skin: The Fickle Nature of Bubbles, Spheres and Inflatable Structures want people to reconsider how their bodies interact with the physical world.
The Ulrich's chief curator, Elizabeth Dunbar, says the show calls special attention to the Internet age's "no space" spaces, which are neither real nor completely intangible. "It comments on being alive in the 21st century, with the World Wide Web, virtual reality and computers," she says. "We live in a time when much of what we consider reality is 'thin-skinned.'"
Spatial ambiguity abounds throughout the gallery, where visitors find themselves manipulating or being manipulated by a flurry of bubbles and spheres, plastic and nylon; museumgoers stretch, peel and pop their way through the exhibit. Dorothee Golz's giant glass spheres, "Hollow World III," sit on the floor, encasing abstract and unusable furniture that taunts you -- just try to sit down. Olafur Eliasson's untitled plaster sculpture is crayon-yellow and holds a concave mirror in which onlookers see their distorted reflections. Ernesto Neto's gauzelike fabric installation encourages tactile experience. And Sutee Kunavichayanont's "Siamese Breath (Twins)" even invites people to use their own breath to inflate two human figures with a small straw.
Though it mostly consists of work done in the past five years, Thin Skin has its historical anchors. Andy Warhol's 1966 "Silver Clouds" lets Mylar balloons float with air currents and respond to the viewer's touch. And Charles and Ray Eames' famous nine-minute film from 1977, "Powers of Ten," looks at our world in relation to the inconceivable edges of the universe.
And just when you think the show is getting a little cerebral, you come across Tom Friedman's photograph of his own mouth agape with a spit bubble. Translucent and weightless, the bubble might be a metaphor for breath and air, for a fragile reality, even for an alternative space. But let's face it: A spit bubble is a spit bubble.
"It's nice to have a show that's fun and not get caught up in the headiness and the intellectual component," says Dunbar, who brought the exhibition to the Ulrich with the hope of attracting a varied audience of students, families and children. She's even lined up an appearance by Pax the Clown to make something for the kids -- balloons, of course.
"We're on a university campus, so our primary audience is the students," she says. "Most of our shows deal with more serious subject matter. This deals with some serious issues, but it welcomes families and children to just look around. Just being able to walk through that inflatable gateway is appealing, and finding Andy Warhol's balloons on the other side is a lot of fun."