It was my first time in the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. The atrium was overflowing with an elegant cocktail party. I love when a museum is transformed into a vibrant gathering. Suddenly I turned and found myself at the edge of an empty room. Behind me was a party packed with people. In front of me was a large room with orange carpet and blank white walls. I took a sharp intake of breath, the empty room had hit me full force. “Art!” my creative side exclaimed. Then I shook my head and my logical side said, “Silly girl, it is just an empty room, not art. Don’t be ridiculous.” And I turned and walked away.

Later that evening, Matt (an artist and docent) was offering tours of the Rudolph Stingel exhibit. He began the tour by explaining that Stingel likes to stretch the concept of painting and the idea of art. Stingel refers to many of his works as paintings even when he uses no paint at all. A wall covered in carpet that I am invited to touch, a ‘canvas’ of pink insulation that looks like Stingel carved randomly with an ice cream scoop; a large self-portrait that I could have sworn was a photograph.

  • Paintings
  • Art
  • Ideas
  • Participation

From the moment Matt (the docent) said I could touch the white carpet on the wall, I was hooked. I pressed my hand deep into the thick pile, leaving my mark on that work, at least for a moment. The act of touching and changing the work opened my eyes and mind to Stingel’s message.

“This had all the intellectual qualities that I ask from a painting. It’s aggressive, it’s against the system, it’s against the usual way of doing a painting. Once in a while, it’s good to freshen up the air with these kind of things.”

Then Matt led us into the orange carpeted room. My inner voice shouted, “Art! I knew it!” Matt asked us to consider that not only were we walking on the canvas but we were also being painted by it. Indeed, we were all bathed in a warm orange glow.

As the tour continued, I lingered in the orange room. I sat on this canvas and reveled in its playfulness. I saw the color painting the white walls. I breathed in deeply, soaking in the simplicity and courage, allowing this moment to transform who I am and how I see the world.

Cross-posted to the Blanton Blog.

Postscript: Later, I laughed when I realized that only a girl from the University of Texas (where it seems everything is burnt orange) would ever look at an empty museum gallery with orange carpet and think it was just a room.