"Mirror Way", by Mary Miss, extends a definite invitation: mount the platform , climb the stairs and ladders to the tower on high. One soon finds ascending this apparently simple structure is only for the eyes and imagination. Physical passage is blocked again and again, as in a dream. A labyrinth, a cul-de-sac, each section leads nowhere -- intentionally! Logically illogical or illogically logical?
The difficulty results from some complex thinking by the artist. She wants viewers to see her sculptures as clever, pleasing objects of art; however, paramount is the hope that spectators will get involved, identify with the work, participate, become aware of forms, space, and allusions. Mary Miss goes on the assumption "if I fence you out, you'll want in."
The composition is purposely evocative. She has searched out images to present, gives hints, solicits memories, nostalgia, emotions. The sculpture, emitting a hushed, enigmatic quality, seems to wait for the viewer's responses. So much depends on his powers of recollection and fantasy. Multilevels interact , combine; sequences become articulated. A unity is born.
Mary, like many of today's artists, reflects a radical change in the concept of art. This new generation is passionately devoted to experiments in the new language that we see blossoming into nontraditional artistic expressions. Several exhibit in locales furnished them where they offer documentations, performances, installations, derived from a personal interpretation, of the site , be it indoors or out. Nature, perception, and the Im govern their venture.
Mary Miss's individuality draws much force from an engrossing interest in architecture, present and past, and an unusually rich storehouse of memories. Her military father delighted in taking the family to visit hitorical places in many lands: old castles, forts, cathedrals, temples, mines, ruins of earlier civilizations. On these remembrances, nurtured by other sentiments and fancies, has been built an extensive world of images. She confides that the particular sources for "Mirror Way" were stage sets, Japanese No dramas, Italian gardens, di Chirico's paintings, and, of course, her own ideas.
The artist describes a customary beginning: "Each work i do evolves over a period of time (usually six months to a year) from impressions of the locality to be used. I develop a whole series of drawings, some of which may be later discarded, others combined together." Long researches include snapping numberless photographs and securing detailed information relevant to the life and meaning of the site. All the time Mary Miss is thinking, reflecting, transforming.
Each of her constructions, markedly dissimilar in shape and with a complete idea proper to it alone, is adapted to or by, or adapts, the chosen location (one is never quite sure which).In fact, Mary's discerning affinity with space has made of it a willing conspirator, which enters into the game without being coerced in any way to do so.
In 1980 she constructed some exciting "Environmental Art" at the Winter Olympics, Lake Placid, N.Y., and exhibited a collage of a plan for that project at the international Biennale of Venice. "Mirror Way" was created on request for a six-week showing in the courtyard of Harvard's Fogg Art Museum, in Cambridge, Mass.
Until now she has planned that her sculptures be exhibited rather briefly. she is now working on commissions for permanent constructions, one at a university outside Chicago and the other on 42nd Street in New York. Surprised at the deviation from the prevailing contemporary stance, we asked what differences it would provoke in her and her art. She told us that by "permanent" she means a life of 20 years or so and that she has no plans to change the type of material she uses (pine wood, wire mesh, galvanized pipe, etc.), since the goals of the permanent work would be the same as those of the temporary structures.
Mary Miss builds carefully, honestly crafted, intellectually elegant forms with the magical power to conjure up the spectator's own repertoire of spaces.As an experience, however elusive, it is real and concrete. More lasting exposures should have more-enduring effects.We shall see.