COLUMBUS, OHIO — `ARTISTS are sorely lacking opportunities in this country to do work,'' says Robert Stearns, director of the Wexner Center for the Visual Arts. ``Very few institutions really support the development of new work or the showing of new work.'' But the new Wexner Center at the Ohio State University ``is about investigation and exploration,'' he says. Its mission is ``to encourage the creation of new art.''
Like the architecture, the Wexner's program of events over the next year celebrates the sweeping-away of conventions - from the ``sonic environment'' by composer John Cage and a concert of Steve Reich's minimalist music to the premi`ere of a dance work by Trisha Brown.
In the galleries, a series of exhibitions starting in February will display works by ground-breaking artists of the past four decades to provide perspective on what lies ahead. For the last show of the series artists will be asked to create works in response to the Wexner's architecture.
The odd shapes of the galleries will challenge artists and curators alike. Stearns admits he has some ``trepidation'' over hanging art here, but he's optimistic. ``No doubt there are possibilities we won't discover until later,'' he says, ``but it's very exciting to have such an unusual building.''
Besides four art galleries wired for sound and video, the center includes a 278-seat video and film theater, a ``black box'' performance space, a lab with television equipment, and studios for artists-in-residence.
Few arts centers have such a multi-disciplinary focus, says Stearns; two comparable ones are the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. But having the resources of a major university makes the Wexner Center special, he says.
``The building is going to generate work that otherwise wouldn't have existed,'' says Stearns. ``What's going to happen here is not likely to happen in any other place.''