Stepping into the huge, multi-story Museum Entrance Hall of the J. Paul Getty Museum, it felt as though one had stepped into a scene from Terry Gilliam’s landmark film, Brazil. There, making its West Coast debut, was Tim Hawkinson’s Überorgan, a soaring “walk-in organ” consisting of six bus-size biomorphic, polyethylene balloons sewn, inflated and then surrounded by fish netting to define its shape. Multiple colorful cords snake in and out of these massive balloons connecting the clear tubing ductwork. The 12 horns, each tuned to a different note in an octave, are made of cardboard tubing with metal fittings covered in aluminum foil, and the reeds are made of polycarbonate sheets that are encased in plastic cookie jars. An industrial blower forces air through the ductwork to the balloons.
The Überorgan’s musical score, which plays every hour on the hour, consists of a 250-foot-long scroll of dots and dashes encoding old hymns, pop classics and improvisational melodies including segments of “Sailor’s Hornpipe” and “Swan Lake.” Clear tubes channel air from a compressor to inflate the balloons and connect them to one another. The score is deciphered by the organ’s brain – a bank of light-sensitive switches – and then translated into low pitches resembling foghorns constrained by the 12 notes in an octave. (Think Close Encounters of the Third Kind.)
Originally commissioned by the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, and on loan to the Getty from the Andrea Nasher Collection, the components for this remarkable, whimsical installation arrived in 17 large wooden crates. The artist oversaw the tailored assembly. “Speaking as an artist, it was gratifying to see my work being handled with white gloves,” said Hawkinson.
Known for incorporating diverse household and industrial materials ranging from duct tape to aluminum foil into his creations, the second part of Hawkinson’s work on display is called Zoopsia. Commissioned by the Getty, the exhibit is comprised of four interrelated objects involving zoological forms – Octopus, (photographic collage mounted on foam), Dragon (ink, paper and mixed media), Bat (plastic bags, twist ties and mixed media) and Leviathon (Sculpey, Crayola model magic and steel.)
According to Exhibition Curator Peggy Fogelman, “Zoopsia inaugurates a different approach in that it supports the creation of new works and brings them to the attention of the public without requiring explicit links to specific areas or objects in the Getty’s permanent collection.” In other words, Zoopsia marks the beginning of a new program of exhibitions which will focus on contemporary art.
On display through September 9, do bring the children to experience the wonder and magic of Überorgan, especially, so they can see the endless possibilities of the use of the most ordinary materials as used by this unique Los Angeles-based artist.