Monday, August 5, 2013

Katonah Museum of Art: Six Ladders

Looking Up
by Emmy Hirsch, guest blogger

Andrea Lilienthal: Six Ladders
All Photography by Margaret Fox from Katonah Museum of Art
Katonah Museum of Art creates a whimsical experience with its newest outdoor exhibition, Six Ladders (Through April 2014). Andrea Lilienthal's bamboo ladders place themselves within the realm of fantasy and reality. Their functional forms are immediately recognizable but their unexplained presence and unusual structure lead viewers to wonder whether there is something more. Bright swaths of vibrant colors and towering ladders transformed the natural surroundings. Five ladders, with their cheerful colors and playful patterns, lean against the Museum's enormous spruce trees in various positions and at different angles. Each of the ladders are hand-constructed from bamboo harvested in China and painted with high-gloss outdoor enamel paint from Holland. Their surfaces are smooth and reflective in contrast the coarse tree bark and earthy territory.

While walking around, I noticed that the ladders, although seemingly functional, are not. As I came up close to the structure, I detected that the bottom rungs were to high to mount and the ladders failed to reach the top of their intended destinations. Though the construction of the ladder is simple and minimalist, Lilienthal happened to find beauty in the repetitive rhythm of the rungs and straightforward geometry. The guide explained that bamboo is a hollow-stemmed, woody plant that has slight imperfections to add distinctive character to each ladder. The contrast between the brilliant and artificial colors with the natural bamboo was both striking and provoking. No two ladders were painted the same, yet the conventional and well-known set of steps instilled the sense of familiarity.

Lilienthal says she chose to work with ladders because of their multiple readings, from utilitarian ancient to mythic. Historically, ladders carry rich and universal associations. In many faiths and fables, ladders are a symbol of ascent, travel, and reaching upward. In modern times, they represent progress and growth, allowing us to reach higher than we would otherwise be able to go. Symbolizing elevation, ladders contrast the journey from dark to light, from ignorance to knowledge, from childhood to adulthood, and from materiality to spirituality. Lilienthal has used bamboo in her artistic practice for several years. In earlier installations, she aligned multiple painted, wrapped, or taped bamboo poles along a wall. Her current exhibition at Katonah is in keeping with the majesty and spacing of the giant spruces.

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My favorite ladder was one that was painted with white rings around the growth nodes of the bamboo, connecting the artist and her artwork with the organic and unrefined texture of the bamboo. What was most unsettling, in a good way, about the exhibition to me was that even though the tops of the trees were not even visible, the ladders only went so high to reach just another knot in the bark. I couldn't help but ask why Lilienthal wouldn't choose to make even bigger and longer ladders to reach the surface of the leaves. After contemplating for a few moments, I came to the conclusion that the artist is suggesting that seemingly unreachable goals can be attained.

mentioned in this post: @KatonahMuseum @overthefenceart

Emmy Hirsch is an intern at SchulmanArt and will be an incoming freshman at Franklin and Marshall College in the fall of 2013.