Sarah Oppenheimer exhibition at Wex “switches” gallery experience

Two massive, glass-and-steel shafts dominate the gallery space at the Wexner Center. The piece by Sarah Oppenheimer, completed as part of a two-year Wex residency, is impossible to miss, but comes with a not-so-secret secret — it moves, or perhaps more accurately, is moveable.

“S-337473” poses some very basic questions. Whether moving the piece yourself or watching others move it, there are issues of the shafts initially appearing too large to complete the rotation and also of how this rotation is accomplished. These questions are important, but not central, to experiencing the work, Oppenheimer said.

“It works in many ways. One of the ways it works is how it mechanically works and the other is how it perceptually works,” Oppenheimer said in an interview at the Wex.

“If it's operating as I would like it to, then it would be” asking a question of everyone who comes into the space, she continued. “Being in the space and viewing the art are joined at that moment, at that place. I'm interested in breaking down that juxtaposition.”

Oppenheimer calls the work a “switch,” inferring the ways the piece changes how the viewer sees not only the work itself but the space it inhabits, and how one moves through and exists in the space.

“What's interesting to me about how spaces work is that there are generally relatively open-ended questions, but we rarely experience them that way because we are too intent on performing a certain activity. There is a pause that happens in an exhibition space that allows us to ask that question about prescriptive use,” Oppenheimer said. “The piece is precisely working against a prescription in that there are multiple circulation paths, multiple decisions. The way one visitor encounters it is different than how another visitor may encounter it.

“I would hope it breaks down the divide between looking at and being in the space.”

Another aspect of the work is its relationship to the architecture of the Wexner Center itself.

“When I start a project, I look for how a space operates and how it could be understood as a set of networks, and this space, especially because of its architectural history, was an incredibly exciting template from which to start working,” Oppenheimer said.

Ohio State professor and architect Andrew Cruse will examine this relationship more fully in a 1 p.m. program at the Wex on Wednesday, Feb. 22.

The final aspect to the work is communal. Whether intended or not, given the work's presence in an art gallery, there is not a clear sanction to move the piece. That “permission” seems to transfer from viewer to viewer as they enter the space.

“I would hope there is the possibility of learning about the space by the observing of others in the space, and I think that something that has been really exciting to me to watch is that there are these relationships that start to get built between people who may or may not know each other through a kind of touch of a shared element,” Oppenheimer said.