The new installation by artist Michael Petry, “A Touch of The Oracle” ,currently on view at the Palm Springs Art Museum fully engages all the senses. Combining color, amorphous shapes, shadow, sound, and scent, Petry provides more than enough stimulus to engage and excite the casual viewer. For those who love art that makes them think, the Oracle provides them with that opportunity.
At least two familiar stories are being told in the installation, inviting multiple layers of interpretation of mythology, religious dogma, and how (or not) they may relate to our spiritual, social, or sexual lives.
One hundred mirrored glass flasks, each containing an item provided by another artist, are suspended from the ceiling representing the “Golden Rain” of Greek mythology. This story of destiny challenged by free will inspired painters such as Titian, Rembrandt, and Klimt to create works of enduring beauty. Armed with an understanding of the gay politics surrounding artist Michael Petry’s earlier work this 3-d rendition of a tale of inescapable fate can be construed as a sculptural version of Lady Gaga’s anthem of destiny; “Born this Way.”
Beneath the glass flasks, “Joshua D’s Wall, comprised of two-hundred and fifty flagrantly-colored glass boulders strewn across the gallery floor, evoke the fallen walls of Jericho. This rainbow-hued representation of the aftermath of the ancient story of obedience to God begs the question; “Now what?”
Created by master glassblowers in Murano, the colorful glass forms invite close inspection with textured surfaces and windows of clear glass illuminating their inner recesses. The boulders beg to be engaged at their level, as the number of exhibit goers on their hands and knees can attest. To satisfy an urge many visitors found irresistible, the museum has placed one example on a pedestal, with a sign encouraging tactile exploration.
Suddenly an earthshaking sound fills the room, and resonates like a gong, followed by a chorus of voices. First male, then female, the otherworldly voices are organized in a churchlike call and response pattern. The sound installation, known as “The Dilemma” hits the ears so hard that it seems to compress space, and immediately grabs your attention away from the captivating visual aspects of the installation.
The musical composition of men’s voices recorded in London, and female voice recorded in Los Angeles, lasts for the entire term of the exhibit; four months, non-stop, without ever repeating itself. The voices alternate leadership of a call and response, with subtle changes in wording or inflection, often the basis of misunderstanding and disagreements.
In the back of the gallery, Petry includes a tiny libation bowl hammered from a gold coin given to him by a former lover, filled with a mixture of scents. Adjacent to the libation bowl is a miniscule ball of knots made from gold thread. Each knot in the thread represents an orgasm, the passage of time, or a puzzle. The sights, sounds, and scents of a “Touch of the Oracle” combine to create an terrific opportunity to step away from the iphone/tv/internet driven rapid-fire pace of life and ponder concepts of beliefs, myth, dogma and destiny.
In addition to being exhibited internationally, Michael Petry is Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) London, Curator of the Royal Academy Schools Gallery and Associate Director at Futurecity. Petry literally wrote the book on installation art, co-authoring “Installation Art” in 1994, and “Installation Art in the New Millenium” in 2003.
The Touch of the Oracle: March 17 – July 29, 2012
Palm Springs Art Museum, 101 Museum Drive, Palm Springs, CA 92262
phone 760.322.4800 http://www.psmuseum.org
Patrick Blythe is a Southern California-based artist, lecturer, and writer