Sarah Gross’s installation at Living Arts, with its inclusions of ceramics and Islamic-inspired architecture, challenges the audience more with each piece.
Sarah Gross is a veritable connoisseur of human and visual divisions, and her ceramic exhibit “To Be Seen” is proof. The exhibit is based on motifs of ornamentation in Islamic architecture and is composed of three ceramic wall pieces and a ceramic installation.
“The Line You Cannot Touch,” one of Gross’s wall pieces, consists entirely of large ceramic quatrefoils. Each ceramic is in its own gradient of blue hues, and the overall palette resembles a cool-toned seascape Monet may have painted.
These light colors contrast with the heft of the ceramic itself: each individual quatrefoil is at least eight inches by eight inches, and they bulge outward from the gallery’s wall. There are nearly forty of these pieces, together making up what appears to be an empty frame against the wall.
This is the first of many divisions and screens implicit in Gross’s work. The heavy-set frame is exclusionary from both the external and the internal. The geometry in the piece screens an empty piece of wall from the viewer, and it begs the audience to examine themselves and their perspective in relation to this screen. The exhibit is borderline alienating. To quote Gross’s artist statement, “Closeness does not establish intimacy.”
This lack of intimacy is nowhere clearer than the installation piece, titled “Consumption,” which I mistook as an actual barrier blocking the front wall of the gallery when I first walked in the building. The installation is referential to the iconic red carpet seen so often in media and celebrity culture, complete with the velveteen red ropes blocking off the viewer.
The piece replaces the red carpet with hexagonal red ceramic pieces. The ceramics are not flat, but instead bubble up in large organic blobs. This renders the ceramic itself to be facsimile of an actual carpet: somewhat similar in looks, but impossible to use.
Again, the piece consists of barriers. Instead of a frame, there are ropes blocking off the art. This, of course, is a part of the installation, but it also works as yet another screen against the audience.
Gross challenges the audience to take selfies and “participate in the crassness of a VIP event,” but the art itself remains nearly unapproachable. This is due partially to the use of barricades and organic yet alien shapes, but also to the preconceived barrier between viewer and art.
The other pieces of Gross’s exhibit explore the use of arches in a two-dimensional space, representationalism in a three-dimensional space, and intentionally incomplete patterns. Gross never stops challenging the predetermined, all while staying faithful to the Islamic ornamentation theme.
“To Be Seen” is on display in the front room of Living Arts in the Brady Arts District until Thursday Feb. 15 with free admission. While it may be easy to be turned off by the conceptual questions Gross aims to bring up in her work, the exhibit itself is grand, playful and valuable to see even outside the context of the artist’s statement. A floor-length ceramic red carpet is fun; contemplating issues of screens between viewer and art is completely optional.