“Panoptos” is yet another example of contemporary artists deep-sea diving in a museum’s permanent collection. Seattle trio SuttonBeresCuller (John Sutton, Ben Beres and Zac Culler) have selected more than 150 works (paintings, photographs and sculpture) that are unrelated in form, style and theme. The sculptures are gathered together against one wall; hung salon-style, the paintings and photographs climb floor to ceiling in the dimly lit double-height gallery. Attached to a system of mechanical tracks that run the length and height of the gallery walls is a real-time camera outfitted with tentacles that are tipped with glowing white balls, which make it seem like some strange robot-creature. The device hangs close to the wall, illuminating and recording the art directly in front of it.
Visitors in an adjacent gallery control the camera’s movement using a joy-stick on a pedestal in front of a monitor that displays what the camera sees in extreme close-up. Pull the joystick this way, and rove across the sparkling half-moon in the dark sky of Jules Guérin’s century-old small painting The Damascus Gate, Jerusalem. Move it a little farther and a teenage blonde holding a phone to her ear slides into view, part of Juliana Paciulli’s large photograph Sarah, from 2004. (A pamphlet contains a map and legend of the titles.) As is revealed on the monitor, many of these works contain details the naked eye couldn’t catch in this low-lit, high-climbing jumble of an installation. Tiny, secondary figures in landscapes far up on the wall, for exam- ple, are starkly revealed at close range and under bright light.
The idea for the project came to SuttonBeresCuller—whose works over the last decade have ranged from finely wrought cast-bronze sculptures to extended public performances—as they were acquainting themselves with the museum’s collection by looking at images on its website after being invited by the Henry. The project, in turn, augments the institution’s online offerings: push a red button next to the joystick and the on-screen view is captured as a photograph and sent to the museum’s Flickr pool—adding to a publicly generated layer of the Henry’s virtual collection. Meanwhile, a live feed lets visitors to the museum’s website see, in real time, what the camera is looking at.
Playing on the fantasy of an all-seeing vision, “Panoptos” provides detailed views, but the visitor has access to them only from a certain remove. The artists imply that even an all-seeing eye has its limits. Happily, this remote viewing heightens the mysteries of close looking, and truly stimulates the desire to see art in person.
Photo: View of SuttonBeresCuller’s installation Panoptos, 2010, 154 artworks, digital camera, aluminum track and mixed mediums; at the Henry Art Gallery.