I was concerned about the sheep’s breath. He had his face so close to mine that I was worried that he might kiss me. He hoofed it right up close and his furry snout was millimeters from my lips.
No, I wasn’t in the Berkshires. This ovine was at the Luhring Augustine Gallery on W. 24th Street in New York City. He and his wooly friends were starring in “Heroes of Birth” a smile-inducing exhibition by Swiss artist Pipilotti Rist. “Layers Mama Layers”–an installation of scenes of sheep in a verdant and lush meadow projected on cascading diaphanous fabrics hanging from the ceiling—greeted me as I walked in. Peter Schjeldahl in The New Yorker said, “[Rist] is an evangelist for happiness like no other first-rate artist that I can think of…” He’s right. This exhibit was an antidote to the sharp elbows and adrenaline I had just experienced at the Matisse show at MOMA.
Pipilotti is a childhood nickname that emerged from “Pippi Longstocking”– her given name is Elisabeth Charlotte. Although Rist doesn’t have horizontal braids like her namesake, the whimsy and sunniness of her art makes me think she channeled something more than just a nickname. But don’t let the optimism of her name be confused with sentimentalism.
Once I left the pasture I moved into the boudoir. Rist’s other installation, “Massachusetts Chandelier”, is a tiered collection of warmly illuminated, decorous, and colorful underpants also suspended from the ceiling. It reminded me of a genial gathering of old friends and relatives.
It was refreshing to see unangstful art like this. I can’t wait to see what Pipilotti Rist is up to next.