Kennedy museum Preview map exhibit

Stephen Deffet, an OU senior from Columbus, takes a look at “Preview” by American artist Robert Rauschenberg, part of the maps, text and data exhibit on display at OU’s Kennedy Museum of Art. 

Could maps, text and data be considered art? Ohio University’s Kennedy Museum of Art is featuring an exhibit dedicated to informational art open now until Jan. 10.

Guest curated by Jakub Zdebik, the exhibit has three rooms inside the Kennedy Museum’s gallery dedicated to art that incorporates data, text and spatial information but presents the information in unique ways. The exhibit is an extension of the museum’s print collection.

“Artists that work with informational elements have been used since the 1960s, and it’s a big part of contemporary art,” said Jeff Carr, the museum’s registrar and preparator.

One item in the exhibition is a piece by Jenny Holzer, a neo-conceptual artist who focuses on the politics of conversation.

“Children are the cruelest of all” and “Eating too much is criminal” are some examples of Holzer’s truisms. At first, it may seem strange to see a simple list of phrases on display at an art museum. They are no images; it’s just a list of phrases. Yet this type of textual manipulation is what defines informational art.

“Just because a piece has text on it doesn’t make it passive. This type of art asks more questions than it answers,” Carr said.

He added that the truisms seem legitimate at first until you think more deeply about them. This pondering is representational of the thought process that informational art is meant to evoke.

 “These works represent a new type of reality,” Zdebik said. The meanings behind most of the works on display are not immediately apparent and up to interpretation. Often you’ll find juxtaposing images and nothing is congruous, he said.

Zdebik is an assistant professor of art history at the University of Ottawa in Ontario, Canada, and a former art professor at OU. His research focus is on data, maps, charts, diagrams and the philosophical aspect of art. He was invited by the Kennedy Museum’s staff to create an exhibition that would best represent his area of research.

To do so, he selected pieces out of the Kennedy Museum’s stock of more than 8,000 objects. He discovered several interesting pieces, singling out Robert Rauschenberg’s work as among the most interesting items in the collection.

Rauschenberg was a graphic artist and painter. His works preempted the Pop Art movement, epitomized by Andy Warhol, in the 1950s and ’60s. He is best known for his combines, a type of art that combines paint and sculpture, and for his use of non-traditional objects, such as trash found in New York City streets. He was quoted in Vanity Fair in 1997 as saying that he used everyday found objects because he wanted to work “in the gap between art and life.”

“Rauschenberg used his canvas like a window that would extend visible reality because he thought of his canvas as a table top with everything scattered,” Zdebik said.

Art often reflects society. Whereas a landscape painting or portrait could evoke strong emotion by simply viewing it, informational art doesn’t have just one focus. It is equally impossible to have just one thought about a piece. This multi-tasking mindset is what makes informational art truly a byproduct of the digital age.

“The 21st century reality is that we’re submerged in information,” Zdebik explained. “We’re always plugged into something, whether it is a phone or laptop computer.”

Other notable pieces include a digital algorithmic display on an iPad, Aycock’s poetic interpretation of an architectural diagram, and Lorna Simpson’s photos of the body with overlapping text that deals with culture and race.

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