Rooms filled with air make the deCordova Museum a fascinating place to visit.
There’s more than air in the galleries, of course. Plaster, steel, wire. String, and plexiglas. And drama—plenty of drama. But without air there would be nothing of interest.
Ian McMahon and Jong Oh have created site-specific installations with decidedly different purposes and outcomes. McMahon’s “Tether” continues his work with temporary structures, using plastic, plaster, iron bars—and air. His enormous exhibition fills the Linde Gallery.
His process: first he inflates huge plastic bags with air. Then he coats the inside of the inflated shapes with plaster, and supports the structure with metal tubing. Finally he removes the outside plastic.
What remains are puffy, harnessed clouds, gigantic, the white of the plaster not only capturing all of the air from inside the balloons, but also revealing both the smooth and wrinkled surfaces from the outside of the balloons. At a glance the structure—actually more than a dozen huge blow-ups, linked together—seems light, floatable. The metal tubing appears to be holding it together, keeping it on the ground.
But in fact the structure is all plaster—fragile and heavy, smoothed-over plaster. The puffed-up structure bulges out over the tubing—like a beer-belly with a too-tight belt.
The implications fascinate. “Tether” is weighty, but breakable (an accompanying video room shows McMahon destroying four previous installations—turning similar structures to shards in an instant). It would not exist without the captured air that created it. Its enormity isn’t threatening at all—the puffiness, and alabaster appearance, soothe any anxiety its size might imply.
While it’s impossible to miss McMahon’s sprawling installation, Jong Oh’s is almost impossible to see.
Jong also uses air, but only as invisible, negative space. His art is linear: slender cords of black thread, hung at various angles from the ceiling, or off the walls. That’s it—just the thin lines.
It takes a while to find these delicate tracings. Standing in the entrance to the exhibition, viewers see absolutely nothing at first. Then some lines, suspended from the ceiling toward the floor, swim into view. Others bolt across the room, from one wall to another. Pencil lines drawn here and there add to the effect.
Some lines repeat themselves as parallels, like a musical staff. Some plexiglas forms are interspersed, but only to add to the trompe l’oeil effect. It’s all about the line. The plexiglas rectangles hanging down, adding to the invisibility, serve only for their outlines.
Like almost everything that must be searched for, this exhibition also rewards. At first, in the simple discovery. Gradually, Jong’s threads start to create additional notions—is that a line too? Is the doorway part of the design? Or that seam at the floorboard?
McMahon’s “Tether” uses thousands of pounds of plaster; Jong’s installation probably has only a couple ounces of string. But just like McMahon’s “pillows,” Jong’s lines are comforting and contemplative. These are complementary exhibitions, both there to breathe in and appreciate.
“Sculpting with Air,” installations by Ian McMahon and Jong Oh, remains on view through September 20 at the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum, 51 Sandy Pond Road, Lincoln. For information visit www.decordova.org or call 781-259-8355.