German artist Veit Stratmann installs a rainbow floor in the venerable Suyama Space — and it’s much less interesting than it thinks it is.
A vinyl floor with delusions of grandeur - Published in Seattle Times, October 20, 2015.
There are two narratives that accompany a contemporary work of art. One is our experience of the piece itself. The second is what the artist says about the piece; such statements are a standard component of modern exhibitions. Theoretically, there should be a close relationship between the two, but occasionally there is a major disconnect, when the artist’s own words seem to have little to do with the artwork in front of us.
That is emphatically the case with the pretentious and disappointing exhibition at the usually reliable Suyama Space by Paris-based German artist Veit Stratmann. Suyama Space, a Belltown institution since 1998, sponsors three installations a year created by artists responding to the peculiarities of the venerable, barnlike interior, a former horse stable from the pre-automobile era.
Stratmann has chosen to install a variation of the sort of colored carpet he has been placing on gallery and museum floors for the last several years, and from the evidence I could find on the Internet, this floor is the least interesting of the series.
In this installation, a rainbow of straight, foot-wide colored vinyl strips covers the large floor, decorative but utterly ordinary and repetitive; the effect is reminiscent of the rainbow crosswalks on Capitol Hill. Separating each strip is a rubbery black ridge an inch or two high, so we have to raise one foot slightly higher than usual to step from strip to strip.
This trivial feature of the floor — the strip dividers — sends Stratmann into an ecstasy of inflated conceptual rhetoric, like a pitchman on overdrive.
Stratmann informs us that his piece illuminates the unwritten “rules of the game” demonstrated by visitors responding to a work of art. “The installation is structured so that the visitor can picture himself in the space, and decide what choices to make … walking on the floor fluctuates between making a gesture that creates an art form, and taking action, which echoes a form of political involvement.”
Visitors are, apparently, in an “awareness zone” and must choreograph their movements with other visitors; their choices about how to walk are of the “utmost significance.”
This is serious nonsense. My wandering through the space took no notice of the arbitrary divisions of the floor, and the “material structure” did not inspire me to “take a stance” and “defend my point of view.” The gentleman from the office next door walked to the bathroom the same way he certainly did before the Stratmann floor was installed, artlessly taking the shortest distance between his desk and his destination.
If there was any political metaphor to be found in the work, it is something on the order of: “These contemporary artists are nuts!”
Minimalism, the type of artwork with which the floor shares the most physical similarity, does not depend on far-fetched theorizing to be effective. The bare neon bulbs of Dan Flavin create glowing auras on nearby walls, while the aggressively perfect shelves and boxes of Donald Judd seem to exist in an alternate reality beyond the merely human. Conceptualism, on the other hand, argues for the primacy of the idea over the object.
Veit Stratmann’s “Seattle Floor” is neither noteworthy as an object, nor does it come tricked out with original and engaging ideas. Instead, it leaves us with the slightly queasy feeling of being had.