7 Artists Who Turn The Museum Experience Into Play Time

Hey, you! Standing quietly over there! Climb all over that sculpture!

If you aren’t touching the art, it hasn’t become art yet.


That’s the premise behind Play With Me, the latest show at LA’s Museum of Latin American Art. The exhibit, which opened on June 17th, brings together 14 Latin American artists from different generations and movements.

Play With Me’s curators explain (PDF) that they wanted to offer “an immersive experience within the artwork itself,” as opposed to the conventional way we view art–from a distance, and usually behind a frame. It’s a great concept for a show, and a long-overdue step towards mainstream acceptance for participatory art, which is sometimes belittled with labels like “for children” or “unserious.”

There are some very big names on view in Play With Me, like Ernesto Neto, whose nylon cocoons are in permanent collections all over the world. At the same time, younger artists shine. Pedro Reyes, the well-known Mexican artist, presents a series of woven shelters that hang from the ceiling. Each inhabitable sculpture was woven by Mexican craftspeople using traditional techniques, and reassembled by the Museum’s staff of interns and assistant curators (who documented the process on their Tumblr). Franklin Cassaro’s clever Abrigo Freud (Freud Shelter) invites MOLAA visitors to enter a massive inflatable pillow made from the pages of a tome on Freud. Spirited four-way games of ping-pong are highly encouraged on Gabriel Orozco’s Ping-Pond Table. Sofía Táboas has taken over part of the Museum’s facade with a hanging garden that will be populated by plants brought by visitors.

Despite its playfulness, there is a strong critical undercurrent to the exhibition. CUBO collective’s Media Womb (2009) brings the embattled border zones into sharp focus, with a multi-sensory audioscape that juxtaposes recordings of Tijuana street life with reports of violence and deportations on the border. Perhaps the most disquieting piece is Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s Voz Alta, which commemorates the 40th anniversary of the student massacre in Mexico City by inviting visitors to speak into a microphone that converts their words into flashes from a 10 kw search light. Originally installed on the plaza where the massacre took place, a network of powerful spotlights relayed the public’s outrage all over Mexico City, while a radio station broadcast their actual words.

Play With Me may use participation as a tool–but as you may recall from childhood, play isn’t always simply fun. It can be scary, surprising, and challenging, too.

The show will be on view at MOLAA until September.

About the author

Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan is Co.Design's deputy editor.