Brooklyn based artist Grayson Cox’s second solo exhibition The Water’s Fine at Klemens Gasser & Tanja Grunert, Inc. gallery challenges visitors’ expectations of viewing art by creating a space that physically confines how visitors engage with art. Recently featured on NY1, Cox shares with Paddle8 his thought process, challenges, and inspirations for the development of this piece.
Paddle8: The opening of The Water’s Fine had nearly 400 people navigating the gallery. Did their behavior and responses match your expectations? What did you find out that was surprising?
Grayson Cox: People seemed to enter the gallery cautiously but adapted quickly and became relatively comfortable with their new environment. A number of people found spots and put their arms up as if in a hot tub. There were even reports of people smoking pot underneath the sculpture! For me, the best part was seeing people smiling, talking, and having a great time together.
P8: Can you discuss how the notions of control and freedom come up throughout the piece? Can freedom exist within controlled systems?
GC: I was inspired by the show Ostalgia last summer at the New Museum, which displayed works of art and artifacts created by individuals during oppressive times. I was thinking of this sculpture as a type of “ice-breaker” that could potentially facilitate a common link between strangers by forcing them to commit to an action and move around the confined space toward a sense of social freedom that wouldn’t be achieved otherwise.
P8: Turning to the images on the walls, can you discuss the significance of the domestic plant?
GC: I helped an artist friend and mentor, Fia Backstrom, on her last show at Murray Guy gallery in 2011. During the show we often spoke about Facebook and social media. Fia talked about the space each person is given within a social media platform and how they are supposed to feel free within that…free to have an identity and share their thoughts from pre-determined box. I drew parallels between this and the potted plant. I was interested in the way that I could photograph these potted plants as portraits and then place them within a social context of other plants, all constricted. In one of the images there are two plants. A money tree is in the foreground and seems to show off while the other plant is in the background. I titled it “Understudy” to create a projected social tension between the two plants. This, coupled with the fact that it is in an arched “window” like frame, I thought, would give the viewer a moment of escape… a place on which to put one’s focus that also related to one’s own “potted-human” like experience of the gallery.
P8: Were there any obstacles or challenges in realizing this ambitious exhibition?
GC: There were a host of logistical challenges with the “Table” sculpture. It was conceived individually as a drawing in Photoshop but was, certainly, a group process. Chris Benfield of Benfield Partners is a fascinating architect and artist… extremely creative with an extensive knowledge of ergonomic theory and design. He shared his library of books on ergonomic design that proved invaluable when determining actual measurements for body odor zones and body-space considerations. Mr. Benfield also designed the way the sculpture would be made into a kit and fit together without and screws or nails. I couldn’t be more grateful to him and the crew that helped assemble this project.
P8: What is the significance of the color grey?
GC: Grey has a direct relationship to American culture. My grandfather was in the infantry during WWII and used gray enamel paint to paint his garage floor to protect it from oil spills as well as his workbenches and tools etc. In photography, photographers use an 18% gray card that is the most common color in the world and used to balance the rest of the light spectrum. Within utilitarian architecture gray and yellow are used. Grey is meant to signify steadiness or normal conditions and yellow is meant to signify a heightened state of awareness.
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