The Pure Joy of Art You Can Touch at the Akron Art Museum, Created By the Cleveland Institute of Art's Jimmy Kuehnle

The Pure Joy of Art You Can Touch at the Akron Art Museum, Created By the Cleveland Institute of Art's Jimmy Kuehnle

Do you know what’s happening in Akron right now? This past Friday the Akron Art Museum unveiled a new exhibit and it’s occupying my every waking moment. The exhibit is an installation by Jimmy Kuehnle entitled “Wiggle Giggle Jiggle.” I know that sounds like the title of a DreamWorks animated movie about three seals who dream of becoming circus clowns, but stay with me.

I like art I can touch. When I visited the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh there was an exhibit that was literally a room full of silver balloons. Running through the room, batting at giant balloons, and being softly pelted in the face by their reflective surfaces, was the most fun I had ever had at an art exhibit. Until I visited a small gallery in Chicago that was hosting a piñata event for charity – local artists had crafted piñatas based on various themes and, one at a time, the piñatas were hoisted up so visitors could, in exchange for money, hit the piñatas with a bat as hard as we could. It was tactile and dangerous as the audience was showered with glitter and, at times, pudding. It was an interactive experience I don’t expect to have at an art museum.

“Wiggle, Giggle, Jiggle” is enormous, red and, really, quite jiggly. The artist, Jimmy Kuehnle, sat in his Cleveland Heights apartment and sewed and sewed for weeks and weeks to create this experience. It starts at the entrance of the museum, where one part of the installation is climbing up the glass atrium wall, extending over the ticket desk, inviting you in while looming over you. The second part is in its own room that you are invited to walk through, and here it gets real tactile. The room is filled with big, fat columns of red fabric. These columns are inflated, lit from within, and quiet. They extend floor to ceiling and are spaced to create walking paths. You enter , and immediately get lost. You aren’t able to tell the shape of the space you’re in – how big is this room? How small? Does this go on forever? Or is it about to end? The only light comes from within the red inflated walls and, as you’re working to gather your bearings, the lights suddenly cut off. You stop, it’s nothing but dark, and the room now goes on forever, up and down, side to side to infinity. And then the lights are back on, winking playful, inviting you to go on.

I walked through the installation a few times on my own, but it took a child in the exhibit to show me how it was actually supposed to be experienced. Two boys, about 10 years old, began bumping into the columns. They hid from each other, pursued each other. They squeezed through places where the fabric columns touched, places I wouldn’t have thought to try to get through. But they could get through, and I could get through, with the satisfying sucking sound of our skin moving against the vinyl-like fabric. The boys ran to each other, ran away from each other. Their father hid in the corner and jumped out yelling “Roar!” The space created by this installation is ideal for hiding and jumping and laughing. The more people that come into the space, the larger it gets. When others are with you in the room you’re inspired to find new ways to move through the red walls, new spaces to hide in or poke through.

This exhibit makes me want to travel back in time, become 13 years old again, go to this thing during a middle school field trip, and get caught making out with someone in between two inflated red fabric columns. I want to take every child I know to this thing and watch their uncertainty of how to interact with this red, puffy labyrinth slowly turn into sheer joy. I want to rent this thing for, not my child’s birthday party, but for my own birthday party. I want to hold an improv class inside this thing. I want to have tea in this thing. It’s a bouncy house fever dream. It’s as though Jimmy Kuehnle took the idea of joy, made a pattern of it, sewed it together, hung it from the ceiling, threw in some air and light, and gave it to us to enjoy. Which, I suppose, is exactly what he did.

“Wiggle, Giggle, Jiggle” is at the Akron Art Museum through February 2017.
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