The Pulitzer Arts Foundation will present Assembly Required, an exhibition of work by nine artists who invite the public to shape and co-produce their artworks. The artists—Francis Alÿs, Rasheed Araeen, Siah Armajani, Tania Bruguera/INSTAR, Lygia Clark, Hélio Oiticica, Yoko Ono, Lygia Pape, and Franz Erhard Walther—were selected for their shared belief in public action and its role in transforming society. Taken as a whole, the work in Assembly Required poses vital questions about how art enables us to imagine new ways of being in the world.
On view at the Pulitzer in St. Louis from March 4 through July 31, 2022, Assembly Required has been curated by Pulitzer Arts Foundation Curator Stephanie Weissberg.
Pulitzer Executive Director Cara Starke notes, “Throughout the run of Assembly Required, the Pulitzer galleries will serve as a space for social engagement and communication and a place in which to consider civic life—a particularly salient topic today—as visitors interact directly with the artworks and with each other. We look forward to seeing our visitors reflect on how art and artmaking can change our lives.”
Created between the 1960s and the present, the artworks in Assembly Required respond to distinct social and political moments and issues, from the unrest in the United States during the Vietnam War to Peru’s military dictatorship in the 1990s, and more. Each artist offers unique perspectives on social change, addressing the need for optimism and hope in the face of global tensions.
Assembly Required opens with Yoko Ono’s Grapefruit (1964), a book proposing 151 simple instructions, or “scores,” for performing an artwork (e.g.,Watch snow fall until dinner time), each on a single page. The exhibition will include 100 pages of the book, arrayed in a single row across the gallery walls. Additionally, the Pulitzer will realize one of the scores, Painting to be Stepped On, which will be placed on the floor across from the building’s entryway so that visitors may engage with the work when they enter the museum by stepping on or over it. This will set the tone of the exhibition as a space to think outside of expected behavior at museums, such as not touching the art, but rather introducing a sense of playfulness and creativity—and touch—while also hinting at the subversive.
The exhibition continues in the museum’s spacious main gallery with several works by German artist Franz Erhard Walther, including one of his most well known bodies of work: First Work Set (1963-1969), or Erst Werksatz. Having lived through the Second World War as a child, Walther was haunted by images of the Holocaust. He began making art during the post-War reconstruction years, viewing the human connections made through art as among the keys to resisting or changing society. The multi-part Werksatz, on view here, is radical in its emphasis on process over product, evident in the hands-on role played by the public, which manipulates the work by performing such mundane actions as folding, dropping, and measuring the fabric elements of which the work is composed. Together, the participants and their work serve as an indication of the importance of coordination and communication to realizing larger goals.
The final gallery on this floor contains a single work by the late Iranian-born/Minneapolis-based Siah Armajani, who is best known for his contributions to public sculpture. His works blend sculpture, architecture, and sites for community, such as bridges, gazebos, and reading rooms. The latter are designed to provide spaces for people to come together around a set of ideas, and to engage in reflection or discussion. His Alfred Whitehead Reading Room, on view in the exhibition, is dedicated to the English philosopher who believed that “all of our choices and actions have consequences for the world around us.” Armajani’s Reading Room, which includes a number of Whitehead’s writings, provides spaces for conversation and reflection related to the philosopher and his ideas.
The museum’s lower galleries include works of the Brazilian Neo-concretist movement. Born in the late 1950s, Neo-concretism sought to dissolve the boundaries between art and audience—treating the public as active participants rather than viewers—and became increasingly political as the military dictatorship took hold in Brazil beginning in 1964. Penetrável Macaléia (1978), is among Neo-concretist artist Hélio Oiticica’s experiential sculptures, many of which include doors, sliding panels, and other building components. With its yellow mesh walls and its sand and plants, Penetrável Macaléia—which the public is invited to enter—alludes to both Brazil’s rich tropical plant life and its favelas, densely-populated neighborhoods that originally began as makeshift settlements for socially and economically marginalized people.
Other Neo-concretists represented include Lygia Clark, with a number of works. These include her bichos (critters or creatures)—table-top sculptures that can be re-formed into countless reconfigurations, thereby transforming the active viewer into a co-creator—and her “dialogue goggles,” which can be worn by one person or two, and which contain a series of lenses that are mirrored on one side, complicating the gaze, among other works.
Lygia Pape was another co-founder of Neo-concretism, along with Clark. Her 1959 Book of Creation, comprises 16 pages that use abstract forms to tell the story of the origin of the world. The pages are unbound, enabling viewers to handle the work, thereby formulating their own creation narrative. Assembly Required will also present documentation from one of Pape’s most famous works. Titled Divisor, this performative work was staged in the streets of Rio in 1968, the year in which the dictatorship suppressed public assembly, introduced mass censorship, and suspended habeas corpus, making citizens vulnerable to arrest without cause. Pape invited dozens of local children to march through the streets under an enormous white sheet, which unified them as a single entity while still retaining their individualism. It was a highly radical gesture during a repressive regime.
Another of the museum’s lower galleries will present a single work by Mexico-based, Belgian-born artist Francis Alÿs. Titled When Faith Moves Mountains, the work was conceived by Alÿs in the year 2000, following a trip to Lima, Peru, in the final days of the Fujimori dictatorship, a time of mass protests and clashes in the streets. Two years later, Alÿs returned to Peru to realize the work for the Lima Biennial.
When Faith Moves Mountains was a one-time performance for which Alÿs invited 500 volunteers from a local engineering school to work together to move a 1,500-foot-long sand dune in a desolate area on the outskirts of Lima. Over the course of the day, they shifted the dune by about 4 inches. The work—seen here through video projections and more than 100 drawings, paintings, and related ephemera—is at once a gesture of optimism, an allegory about the potential of the collective will, and a realist observation about the enormity of the challenges to achieving long-term change.
Finally, the Pulitzer’s outdoor courtyard will be the site of a work by Karachi-born, London-based artist Rasheed Araeen. While he is interested in the pared-down geometric forms of minimalism, Araeen also wants to democratize his work. Assembly Required will show Zero to Infinity, one of his breakthrough works, which was first conceived of in 1968. For each installation of the work, up to 100 open-frame wood boxes are laid out in a grid. Visitors are invited to disrupt the grid by reconfiguring the boxes into any formation they want. (These endless permutations inspired the title of the work.) Araeen has constructed 36 red boxes for the Pulitzer iteration of Zero to Infinity.
Information on the work by Tania Bruguera/INSTAR will be revealed later.
For more information, visit pulitzerarts.org.