Commissioned a year ago to create an original installation for the McNay Art Museum’s “Immersed: Local to Global Art Sensations,” San Antonio artist Chris Sauter began thinking about the current political climate, social media, fake news, facts versus belief and the principal pleasure molecules produced by the human brain — dopamine.
Every time you hit a “like” on Facebook, you get a little dopamine hit, which Facebook and other social media outlets have learned to monetize.
“In Pleasure Principle, visitors will enter a constructed and furnished living room, complete with floor, walls and ceiling, an entertainment center, sofa, tables, and a pair of recliners,” Sauter said. “Models of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with the development of belief, assembled from disks cut from the walls and ceiling of the room are piled on the chairs taking the place of bodies at rest. Video projections of information — news broadcasts, Facebook feeds, newspaper articles — filter through the holes, creating a disorienting, almost hallucinogenic space.”
Sauter is known for cutting pieces out of gallery walls to construct his elaborate installations, but for “Immersed,” he actually built a self-contained 24-by-18-foot room using medium-density overlay (MDO) panels made with plywood, and then cut out the pieces he needed, including many round holes used to construct the foot-long to 18-inch dopamine molecules.
“This is the largest installation I have created, and it took a lot of planning, a lot of hole saws and many panels of MDO,” Sauter said. “But the best thing about ‘Immersed’ is seeing my work in the context of the other artists in the show. I am very proud of being in this company.”
Organized in conjunction with San Antonio’s Tricentennial and the 50th anniversary of HemisFair ’68 by the McNay’s René Paul Barilleaux, head of curatorial affairs, “Immersed” places Sauter’s work alongside three other internationally known artists who create complex, environmental installations that completely envelop the viewer. Because of the nature of the installations, reservations are required.
Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, whose “Infinity Mirrors” exhibit organized by the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden is on a blockbuster national tour, is beloved for mirrored rooms with LED lights hanging from the ceilings, which have become incredibly popular on social media. From the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Kusama’s Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity (2009) features a constellation of lights that brighten and fade. Viewers will be limited to one minute in the fully enclosed mirrored room, which creates the illusion of an infinite universe.
Monsters materialize from shadows cast on walls in British artist Philip Worthington’s Shadow Monsters (2004), also from the Houston museum. While it may sound like child’s play, Worthington has added custom-designed, vision-recognition software, which improves viewers’ shadow gestures with sound and animation. Open and close your hands like a mouth and a wolf with razor-sharp teeth will appear and growl.
Originally intended for HemisFair ’68, Andy Warhol’s film Sunset was commissioned by Houston art collectors John and Dominique de Menil for the Vatican’s pavilion at the World’s Fair, but when plans for the pavilion fell through, the work was left unfinished. Making its San Antonio debut, Warhol’s Sunset over the Pacific Ocean in California unfolds as a slow and colorful shift of atmospheric light at dusk. The deep voice of German singer Nico, who worked with the Velvet Underground, is heard reading poetry.
Sauter is one of San Antonio’s best-known artists. Currently serving as the director of foundations and special courses and interim director of the painting and drawing department at the Southwest School of Art, Sauter also serves as a co-chair of Contemporary Art Month.
“It’s unusual to have a group show of installations,” Sauter said. “After months of planning, I made a model of my installation last January but didn’t physically get started until March. Usually, I do my research first and that will suggest the form. This time, I had to tell the McNay what I was going to do, and then do my research. So, it changed things around for me and made it more of a challenge. I began doing research on the ‘echo chamber’ effect in social media, where people tend to only want to hear what they want to hear. That led me to dopamine, which tends to reinforce our beliefs. We get that little hit of dopamine anytime we hear something we like.”
Sauter first cut pieces out of a gallery’s drywall to make an installation for his Artpace residency in 1999. In what has become his signature style, Sauter memorably recreated his childhood bedroom in 2007 for a show at Blue Star Contemporary. Although much of his work has been autobiographical, Sauter said Pleasure Principle is not about him.
“I am using furniture from my family’s home,” Sauter said. “But it’s just because it’s easiest.”
‘Immersed: Local to Global Art Sensations’
$10-$20, June 7-Sep 2, 10am-4pm Tue-Fri, until 9pm Thu, 10am-5pm Sat, Noon-5pm Sun, McNay Art Museum, 6000 N. New Braunfels Ave., (210) 824-5368, mcnayart.org
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