Interactive Art: Here’s Lookin’ At You

Three young men hung suspended, each within a frame, each painted one solid color: one black, one dark blue, one red. Mounted for hours each day on walls of New York City’s New Museum of Contemporary Art during the winter of 1988, they were titled “The Living Paintings,” and one purpose was to comment on the act of looking: We take it for granted that we look at art. But what if the art looks back at us.

The exhibit was riveting, and two exhibits visited tonight took me back to that less conventional work. “Along the Yangzi River: Regional Cultures of the Bronze Age” at the China Institute Gallery ( and the new show of masterwork paintings at Robert Simon Fine Art ( contain striking works that appear to interact with the viewer.

Bronze Ding SculptureDating back to the 11th–16th centuries BC, a “ding” vessel, intended for rituals, stands squarely on its four legs while decorative faces on each side look forthrightly out at us. Rescued from a junk heap fifty years ago when spotted by an alert museum curator, the ding and other bells, basins, and food containers in this exhibit vividly illustrate the sophistication of early Chinese civilization.

Portraitfof an Architect by Huybrecht BeaukelarA few blocks away in his townhouse gallery, Robert Simon’s show includes a young man, presumably an architect, who confronts us with a provocative sideways gaze calling to mind that gallery-going is an interactive activity.