“Social Sculpture” On View in Zilkha Gallery (through March 3)

Director of the Center for the Arts Pamela Tatge reflects on the exhibition FOOD-WATER-LIFE—LUCY+JORGE ORTA, on view in the Main Gallery of the Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery through Sunday, March 3, 2013.

“70 x 7 The Meal,” act L City of London, Lucy + Jorge Orta, 2006-2050

It’s the start of the spring semester here at Wesleyan University, and our student gallery monitors are preparing to welcome a new exhibition into the Zilkha Gallery: FOOD-WATER-LIFE—LUCY+JORGE ORTA. I was introduced to the French artist couple by Ginger Duggan and Judy Hoos Fox, independent curators who have brought two exhibitions to Zilkha Gallery in the past two years:  Connectivity Lost in September 2010 and Passing Time* in January 2012. The Ortas, whose studio is in Paris, contributed 70 x 7 The Meal to Connectivity Lost, a set of plates that were a part of their public art piece that they have mounted in cities around the world whereby thousands of people share a meal together on a set of limited edition plates, forging a powerful encounter of people from all walks of life.

Ginger and Judy shared with us that although the Ortas have exhibited all over the world, and in group shows in the U.S., they had never had a solo show in this country.  Wesleyan partnered with the Tufts University Art Gallery who organized the exhibition, and we have our opening on Tuesday, January 29 from 4:30pm to 6:30pm.

I’m excited to have this stunning exhibition in our gallery for many reasons, first because the issues their works illuminate are those that many in our community are discussing:  biodiversity, environmental conditions, climate change, and exchange among peoples.  The exhibition also intersects with this year’s Feet to the Fire theme, Earth and Justice for All, with many courses in Wesleyan’s College of the Environment exploring environmental justice issues.

But most importantly, it’s been a long time since we’ve had large-scale sculptural elements in the gallery.  The minute I saw their work I could see it beautifully sited in Zilkha:  the height of the gallery frames the strikingly colorful parachute installations; the segment on food is situated in front of the gallery’s windows and is in dialogue with the trees and grass of our courtyard; the film of the Ortas’ public art work in Antarctica is set against the raw majesty of the floor to ceiling limestone of the Main Gallery’s back wall.

And the full-scale canoe that is docked in the center of Zilkha has a sister canoe that the Ortas have installed at the Shanghai Biennale, where it is a fully-working water purification system. The Museum of Contemporary Art is pumping in water from the Huang Pu River, up 20 meters into the museum’s third floor.  It is purified in a bamboo “factory” and then clean drinking water is available for the visitors to taste, enjoy and take away in a specially designed OrtaWater bottle.  I’m sorry that our budget didn’t allow us to do the same with water from the Connecticut River!

Following the opening on Tuesday, the exhibition will be on view, alongside Janne Höltermann’s Remodeling Zilkha installation in the North Gallery, through Sunday, March 3.

*Many of you may not know that Wesleyan’s exhibition, Passing Time, left Middletown last March and traveled to Indiana’s DePauw University, then to the Salina Art Center in Kansas.  While we will be celebrating the opening of the Orta exhibition on Tuesday, Passing Time will open at the Bakalar Gallery at Boston’s Massachusetts College of Art and Design!  If you missed it at Wesleyan, you can see it in Boston through Sunday, March 3.