The Philadelphia Museum of Art, Perelman Building
Showing through January 29, 2012
By Todd Keyser
Under the Influence, an installation by Philadelphia-based artist Tristin Lowe, features two works, Lunacy and Visither I, both commissioned in 2010 by the Rhode Island School of Design’s museum.
Upon entering the Joan Spain Gallery, one is confronted with an over-sized door that is at once seamless in its believability and uncanny in its effect. One feels dwarfed by the scale of it. Immediately beyond the door is nothing but the darkness of the gallery. To the right is a gigantic moon, reaching almost to the ceiling. The celestial light that bathes the large rock naturalizes it enough for me to accept it without question. Walking behind the moon sculpture, I noticed Lowe’s other work, Visither I, made of glass neon tubing and a steel armature. Visither I suggests itself formally as a rocket ship, gesture or figure. This installation is a new direction for Lowe with the combination of felt sculpture and the neon sculpture that lights it.
In the artist’s 2007 solo exhibition, New Work at Philadelphia’s Fleisher Ollman gallery, Lowe had not yet combined his felt and neon-tube sculptures. One of the characteristics running through much of Lowe’s work is the use of off-white felt to represent a variety of surfaces. Objects in the exhibition included a candlestick, a door, and a pair of jeans as a self-portrait. Related to this group of sculptures is the gigantic 52 foot whale sculpture Mocha Dick, that Lowe completed for the Fabric Workshop and Museum in Philadelphia (May 7, 2009.) All of these works were created using the artist’s signature off-white felt.
In his Fleisher Ollman show, Lowe seemed to be excluding naturalism because the jeans, candlestick, and the door are all white. It’s as if Lowe has emptied out the reality of these objects but kept the shell of the experience. In the whale and moon sculptures, his use of white would certainly not negate the realism of the objects, but the environments in which Lowe presents these works challenge the experience. With an actual whale we would have to be in a boat or underwater to get close, and at the Philadelphia Museum of Art he has brought the moon to us, resized but still enormous.
Under the Influence demonstrates Lowe’s ability to simply integrate several pieces into a single installation. A subtle strangeness is clearly communicated. As with all good art, the artist is the enabler of the impossible and the paradoxical. Lowe makes us suspend our disbelief just a little bit, even if it means that the moon can reside indoors.
Todd Keyser is a Philadelphia-based artist. Keyser received his MFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art.