31 January 2013
The question is an open one. Must art, in order to get away from the self-referentiality that shields it from having to deal with the lay public, necessarily be playful and interactive? It would be easy to say yes, especially in the light of some examples: from the thousands of people who lined up at the Tate Modern in 2007 to whizz down Carsten Höller’s slides to Tomás Saraceno’s recent installation at the Hangar Bicocca (last day, Sunday February 17), curated by Andrea Lissoni, with some visitors engaged in crawling around on floating PVC dunes while others stare at them from below, participating in their own way in this collective ritual amidst an atmosphere of general euphoria. An energy that reverberates through the other spaces of the Hangar: from the children’s workshop to the bar-restaurant, both so animated that it feels like you’re in another country. If we’re not going to hide behind the fig leaf of the sort of sterile intellectualisms that send insiders into raptures, but which ordinary people justifiably find baffling, then it needs to be said that the public should always be taken into consideration when designing exhibitions. Not so much to boost audience figures, but to create an art system that is less inward-looking and thus more socially relevant. So we should welcome playful and participatory strategies, even when they are as extreme as the ones employed by Saraceno’s intervention. The problem of cultural mediation is complex, but the Hangar Bicocca really seems to be on the right track.