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Fun encouraged at ‘Wow Pop Bliss’ exhibit

“Winking Windbags” is part of the Columbia Museum of Art exhibit “Wow Pop Bliss: Jimmy Kuehnle’s Inflatable Art” which opens June 14.
“Winking Windbags” is part of the Columbia Museum of Art exhibit “Wow Pop Bliss: Jimmy Kuehnle’s Inflatable Art” which opens June 14. Columbia Museum of Art

The Columbia Museum of Art has a new exhibition that may challenge your notion of what goes on in an art museum.

Which is pretty much the point.

“Wow Pop Bliss: Jimmy Kuehnle’s Inflatable Art” opens Friday, June 14 and will be on display at the Columbia Museum of Art through Sept. 8. His exhibition is running in conjunction with an exhibition from another Cleveland-based artist, “Mimi Kato: Ordinary Sagas.”

Both exhibitions are designed to offer visitors uniquely provocative, even downright playful, experiences with contemporary art.

“‘Wow Pop Bliss’ is a game changer for the CMA and a new level of interaction with art,” said museum curator Catherine Walworth. “‘Polychrome Dome,’ designed just for us, is the most highly developed work that Kuehnle has produced and the effect of sitting inside it is magical.”

“Jimmy Kuehnle and Mimi Kato are extraordinary, with incredibly smart, bold, slightly madcap exhibitions that set the tone for summer and provide unforgettable museum moments,” Walworth said. “We are excited to debut brand-new work from these two artists and to continue the CMA’s commitment to dynamic contemporary art.”

“Polychrome Dome” uses thermal sensors to detect visitors and reacts to them as much as they react to it. As the number of people moving about inside the igloo-shaped inflatable changes, the embedded music and color effects shift rhythmically.

Kuehnle is a performance and sculpture-based artist who creates large-scale, high-tech inflatables designed to expand notions of abstract art. “Wow Pop Bliss” fills four exhibition galleries with touchable, interactive environments using inflatables that combine sound, light, space, and texture to create unexpected experiences for visitors as they move under, through, and around these works.

Kuehnle has built large-scale inflatables for museums across the United States and internationally. Two of those sculptures, “Punch Bubbles” and “Wiggle Giggle Jiggle,” have been deconstructed, reconfigured, and given updated technology for this exhibition. In addition, Kuehnle has created two new inflatables, “Winking Windbags” and “Polychrome Dome.”

“I see the work as a collaboration and negotiation with the audience,” Kuehnle said. “The viewers are necessary for the work to be complete; otherwise it just sits in a pile of fabric in a cardboard box in my studio.”

Kuehnle’s sculptures are meant to be experienced, touched, and walked through, and viewers might even be chased by lights or subwoofers. There is a sense of absurdity to everything he does and a desire to spark delight in the viewer.

“I want visitors to experience real delight and joy,” he said. “I want them to forget where they are and what they were doing just a moment ago and experience light, sensation, space, and interaction. I want them to bump into strangers as they navigate a labyrinth with blinking LEDs, listen to sounds on loops while watching LED animations, feel the vibration of subwoofers on the fabric. I want them to enjoy the moment and enjoy the human community of others that surrounds them in something that is not necessary for survival, art, but makes survival hopefully more enjoyable.”

Kuehnle talked with us more about his art and latest exhibit.

Q. What is inflatable art?

A. Inflatable art is anything that has air as an internal support. It can range from tiny origami paper blow up boxes, to balloon animals, to large scale structures that humans can enter and everything in between. It is a great way to achieve scale with minimal material weight.

Q. How did you get involved in this medium?

A. I used to make funky bicycles and video installations with television monitors. All of that was heavy to work with and to carry around. I originally started making inflatables to have less to carry around. Now that the inflatables have grown to the scale of architecture, I am back carrying a lot of material around.

Q. How does your art expand the notions of abstract art?

A. The work has abstract forms and shapes. It adds abstract light patterns as well as abstract soundscapes. Tony Cavallario made the sounds that visitors hear in “Polychrome Dome.” The piece wouldn’t be complete without them. “Polychrome Dome” adds thermal cameras, computer vision, a Raspberry Pi, and an LED matrix for a total experience expansion of the notions of abstract art. It’s a total work of art.

Q. Why do you think it’s important for your art to be touchable and interactive?

A. I think art should be for everyone. That is why there is a piece that I intentionally sited outside the museum in public space on Boyd Plaza. That piece can be enjoyed or hated by anyone without any cost. That is important to me. I love going to museums and I want people that come to see my work to have a good time and have delight and wonder.

Q. What do you hope visitors “get” after seeing your exhibition?

A. I want visitors to experience real delight and joy. I want them to forget where they are and what they were doing just a moment ago and experience light, sensation, space, and interaction. I want them to bump into strangers as they navigate a labyrinth blinking LEDs, listen to sounds on loops while watching LED animations, feel the vibration of subwoofers on the fabric. I want them to enjoy the moment and enjoy the human community of others that surrounds them in something that is not necessary for survival, art, but makes survival hopefully more enjoyable.

The viewers are necessary for the work to be complete. Otherwise it just sits in a pile of fabric in a cardboard box in my studio. I make the work for the viewers to hopefully enjoy and to take memories with them. Of course, I also make the work for myself because I am fascinated with making and the fabrication and the entire enterprise of making art installations. I view the work as a collaboration and negotiation with the audience. I always wonder what they will think. In this case I hope they think happy thoughts.

Q. What would you like to tell visitors before they see your exhibition?

A. Bring all your friends and family and get lots of great Instagram shots. Have fun but behave, it’s still an art museum.

If you go

“Wow Pop Bliss: Jimmy Kuehnle’s Inflatable Art”

When: June 14-September 8

Where: Columbia Museum of Art, 1515 Main St.

Details: Go to www.columbiamuseum.org for admittance prices and museum hours.

ExtrA. There will be an Inflatables Workshop with Jimmy Kuehnle from 9-11 a.m. June 15. In this workshop participants will work directly with artist Jimmy Kuehnle to create their own inflatable inspired by pieces in “Wow Pop Bliss.” All materials and supplies provided. Ages 18 and up. Free. Space is limited. Registration required.

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