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Lonely Art

An afternoon wandering at Artisphere in Rosslyn.

After months of wandering the streets in search of art exposed to the elements and available to the pedestrian eye, I decided to venture indoors for some cultural inspiration. And what better place for roofed artistic exploration than Artisphere, Rosslyn's own urban arts center?

Artisphere oozes cool from every inch of its vast interior. It's a smorgasbord of hip artistic curation. As soon as you enter, you know this ain't your mama's art gallery; the colorful ultramodern decor makes a point of boldly communicating such to you.

I had to been to Artisphere several times before, so I knew generally what to expect. But previously I had always arrived with purpose, there for a specific showing or event, not for curious meandering. On this most recent visit I made a point of coming as an average Artisphere newcomer, not intent on seeing anything specific or with any preconceived notions.

What I found was far from life-changing. In addition to the initial blast of packaged coolness, I noticed an immediate loneliness to the place, a sad emptiness. Sure, it was rush hour on a week day, but too often I have found the sounds of my footsteps echoing throughout the cavernous Artisphere, and this time was no different.

Oh, well. More art for me. Kind of.

As my uninterrupted art viewing began, another observation came: There are no real permanent installations at Artisphere, nothing for veteran visitors to fall back on time and time again. It's primarily temporary installment after temporary installment. This is something that most of the time makes Artisphere great: It's exciting, unpredictable and always fresh. But with so many interactive media features and rotating installations, off-hours and off-dates can often seem rather lifeless.

I managed to find some entertainment, regardless.

The first, brief stop was some sort of video game art. After failing miserably in my attempt to create 3-D Etch-A-Sketch art with a strange red controller, I found a "new media" project in the Bijou Theater that seemed more promising.

This was old media made new: A series of Super 8mm black-and-white films by apparently renowned artist Alison Crocetta modernized by added sound and present-day video formatting.

According to the placard, the films sought to "focus on the relationship between the body, the built environment and sculptural form." About 30 seconds in, I had to focus on not clawing my eyes out and stabbing myself in the ears.

I entered the theater just as "Reveal" was commencing.

The film witnesses an actress's existence within an enclosed "head-space," or a cushioned white box, cerebral and dreamy in its appearance. The actress, also dressed in white and outfitted with a bonnet of flowers, begins to incessantly pull the flower buds one by one from her headdress. A voiceover attaches the clips of "She loves me" and "She loves me not" to the visuals -- the sound bytes on repeat, one followed by the other, over and over and over again. Enthralling.

The placard explains that " 'Reveal' follows a repeated action to a level of obsession while contemplating the search for love from oneself and a beloved." I decided to search for myself elsewhere.

And so I ventured into a wing of the building under construction, a wing for a soon-to-be-new installation. But I found the random amalgamation of bricks and crumbled concrete on the dimly lit floor to be more inspiring than the film I had just witnessed.

You find art in strange places when you commit to wandering.

Ultimately, little cultural enlightenment came of my Artisphere visit. It did, however, feel good to open up to the possibility of disappointment.

In closing, I'd like to offer some advice to Artisphere -- Not necessarily to please me, but to better serve the general viewing public:

1. Be more subtle. In my estimation, the average visitor is turned off by the overt "young and ultra-hip" vibe. The atmosphere and appearance shouldn't be the selling point, the art should be.

2. Try a more balanced approach. Not every installation has to prove your alternative-art street cred. Try coupling the out-there new media installations with more traditional galleries. I'm not saying be boring, just diversify.

3. Install some sort of permanent collection, so even if the main attractions are in the process of being installed or dismantled, there is always something to look at.

4. Go local. Feature more Virginia and Washingtonian artists.

That's all. Until next time, happy art hunting.

Mark Blacknell September 14, 2011 at 06:25 PM
Really enjoying your series, Brooks. Even when it's a bit depressing.
Maribeth Egan September 15, 2011 at 01:23 PM
Did you visit the MEZZ Gallery during your tour? It is devoted to Arlington based artists. "Mantra Samplers" is up until Sept. 23rd. Check it out.
Brooks Hays September 15, 2011 at 02:09 PM
Thanks for the suggestions Maribeth. I did see "Mantra Samplers," but they all looked too much like the front cover of "Eat, Pray, Love," which I have less than nice things to say about, so I thought it was best to hold my tongue on that.
Caroline Klam September 15, 2011 at 08:34 PM
I'm a 60 something Arlingtonian and I love the Artisphere - it doesn't feel either lonely or "young and hip."

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