Not every art installation benefits from being displayed in one of the Broad Art Museum’s improbably shaped galleries, with all their obtuse angles and razor sharp architectural edges. Two-dimensional pieces hung in rectangular frames look oddly … square … at the Broad, a building that proudly boasts a lack of right angles. In the coming weeks, however, Michigan’s premier modern art museum will see the arrival of exhibits that can only be made possible by its distinctive architecture and challenging space.
“The new exhibits are more site specific,” said Broad spokesman Jake Pechtel, “And our space gives the artist a laboratory to play off of the architecture of the building.”
Since it opened, the Broad Art Museum has turned the “form follows function” principle into an exercise in innovative art exhibition. Recent exhibits, such as last fall’s “Lebbeus Woods, Architect,” have been playing more to the building’s design. But Pechtel said a new batch of exhibits are on the way that were developed with the space’s unique light and acoustic aspects in mind, maximizing the Broad’s pitches, angles and crevices — and making function follow form for a change.
Next week, the Broad welcomes New Delhi-based artist Mithu Sen for her first U.S. solo exhibition. Sen will erect “Border Unseen,” a massive installation in the Demmer Gallery on the museum’s first floor. Because of the space’s unusual characteristics, the artist was inspired to increase the size of the work by one-third.
“(The piece) was originally supposed to be 60 feet (long), but now its 85,” Pechtel said. “It’s morphed into something more grandiose than it originally was supposed to be.”
The work will be suspended from the ceiling of the rhombus-shaped room, undulating along the length of the newly painted pink walls to fully immerse the viewer. Sen uses denture polymer and false teeth to construct sculptures that attempt to strike the viewer as grotesque and animal-like but that also retain a certain allure.
“Mithu sees beauty in revulsion — to her they’re two sides of the same coin,” said Karin Zitzewitz, assistant professor of art history and visual culture at MSU and curator for the exhibition. “The staff reactions have been great. One said it was like walking into a body.”
To carry on the Broads brand of mad science, it will follow up Sens exhibit with one by artist Imran Qureshi entitled, “The God of Small Things.” Qureshi produces contemporary miniature paintings, a laborious process with a style that has roots in Indian art.
Qureshi is most famous for his installations made from crumpled paper. Some 20,000 pieces, usually with an image of one of Qureshi’s past works, are balled up and piled into a mound. The Broad will house the first such piece in the U.S. as the centerpiece to his exhibit, which also includes more traditional works. The piece is actually interactive: The public is invited to join the artist in paper-crumpling duties at the Broad Monday through Wednesday (see details below) before it’s assembled in the Broads main gallery. Additionally, Qureshi will announce a public art piece for the City of East Lansing on May 7.
The Broad has also begun branching out into other types of exhibits. Recently, it unveiled "Working America, Unexpected Stories," a collection of around 30 images selected by students from the Curatorial Studies program at MSU. The pieces are on display in the benefactor cases in the lower level, laying out a narrative of the working experience in America spanning several decades.
Pechtel said the space will also be increasingly utilized by experimental musicians and filmmakers. Last month it showed the student film “Crypsis,” a noir-inspired transfiguration of “The Invisible Man” that was shot on location in and around the museum. And two weeks ago Brian Chase, drummer for indie rock band The Yeah Yeah Yeahs and member of the New York City improv and experimental scene, broke the confines of a standard concert.
“He started to see how his instruments responded to the building, creating new sounds,” Petchtel said.
With such diverse offerings and defiance to the fundamentals of architecture, the Broad might even appear to be unclear in its function, but Pechtel seems confident.
“It doesn’t always have to be an art opening, and it doesn’t always have to be an exhibition,” he said. “The museum of the 21st century doesn’t have to be a place of the quiet reflection on the pieces within.”
To volunteer for paper crumpling, stop by the Broad Art Museum between 10 a.m-5 p.m. Monday- Wednesday, April 28-30. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Exhibition opening: “Mithu Sen: Border Unseen”
6 p.m. Friday, April 25 (runs through Aug. 31) Eli & Edythe Broad Art Museum 547 E. Circle Drive, MSU campus, East Lansing (517) 884-4800, broadmuseum.msu.edu
Broad Museum gets $5 million gift
Last week, the Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University received a $5 million gift from the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation.
The gift will increase the museum’s exhibition endowment and provide annual funding for exhibitions for the next five years. It was given in honor of the museum’s founding director, Michael Rush.
“Michael Rush is realizing the vision for Broad MSU, bringing contemporary artists from around the globe to East Lansing and drawing audiences from … all corners of the world,” said Eli Broad in a statement. “The exhibitions presented at the museum provide opportunities for students and the community to experience art that they might otherwise never see, while simultaneously drawing new visitors to East Lansing.”