News / Halifax

'Something to experience:' Caution tape, sculpture used to challenge art gallery visitors in Halifax

Gallery visitors are used to looking at art as they walk slowly along, but one new exhibit involves a bit more caution tape.

Starting Saturday and running until Sept.13, John Greer’s retroActive brings the reknown sculptor’s work from the late 1960s to today into the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia (AGNS) to challenge how we traditionally experience and think about art.

“A lot of people are intimidated by art galleries,” the Nova Scotia artist said with a smile after the launch of the gallery’s 2015/16 season last week.

Gesturing to the exhibit poster, which shows a1974 photo of Greer wearing “Sceptical Spectacles” of sunglasses covered in sheep’s wool, Greer said people often feel like galleries are trying to put one over on them as they look at art – but there’s an important line between skeptical and cynical.

“Skeptical is always open. Cynism is a closed thing, so these are skeptical spectacles so you can pull the wool over your own eyes if you want to and it’s not so bad,” Greer said.

“When a person goes into a gallery … they are in control.”

The exhibit includes Greer’s sculpture, his works from the gallery’s permanent collection, new pieces to be shown for the first time and other artmaking techniques like mail art.

A long-time NSCAD University instructor and Governor General award-winning artist, Greer said he loves weaving the historical and cultural aspects of sculpture into his work.

Traditionally, Greer said statues were placed in niches or against walls because artistocrats found it “humiliating” to walk behind another person, so he works with the back of sculptures or places them so anyone can walk around the piece.

“You become an equal to that thing you’re looking at, so it’s exchanged,” Greer said.

“Art really is idea manifested in materials, so it is an intelligence looking at an intelligence.”

Greer said he uses devices like putting caution tape over doors for people to work their way through to make the visitor more alert and attentive to what they’re looking at.

“People are used to thinking of art as something to look at instead of something to experience,” Greer said.

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