Mowry Baden: I Walk the Line

Thursday, Apr 19, 2018-Sunday, Sep 02, 2018
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Mowry Baden
I Walk The Line
1967, wood, steel, carpet. Gift of the artist,.

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In the 1960s, Mowry Baden began to explore ways in which sculpture could be experienced physically with the whole body as opposed to just visually. Indeed, I Walk the Line invites viewers to do just that: to straddle the sloping rail and walk the aisle of the oversized construction. Baden is an early innovator of art which asks for the viewer’s physical participation to fully experience the work. To Baden, the yellow, wooden structure is less about sculpture than it is about architecture. As he notes, architecture ideally gives “precision to the visitor’s movements.”

Here, the viewer is invited to enter into the central aisle of the wooden structure, to straddle the wooden railing which rises, disturbingly, midway, and to “walk the line.” The anticipation, process, and result of the walk become the piece. Even as it is the viewer that navigates the distance, Baden constructed the sculpture to the specifications of his own body to direct the participant’s movements. Thus, the void, rail, and length are not simply abstract components but a correlation of the artist’s body: his hip width, crotch height, and length of stride.

At a “glance,” the participant may assume that it is impossible to negotiate the rise at the center of the rail. But while traversing the artwork, the participant soon discovers that a hidden ramp within the work provides the necessary clearance. This highlights one of Baden's central concerns: that vision is unduly emphasized in art. This physical engagement by the viewer runs counter to the traditional expectation of looking at art. By participating in the work, the viewer is forced to rely on tactile and kinesthetic senses and to question the accuracy of what is seen.