By Sheila Wickouski

How long should you take to view a work of art when walking through a gallery? Rirkrit Tiravanija: Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow, and Green, now at the The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Gardens, offers a different approach to that question.  

The installation is unusual because it invites the viewer to not only look at the art but to stay and watch as the artists create the large-scale mural on the walls over the course of the exhibition while sitting in a community dining space and sharing a meal together.

Rirkrit Tiravanija is an award-winning Thai artist who believes that art arises from real-time experiences and interactions, so that the object and the viewer are not separate from the work. Food is the medium of exchange in which visitors will be served a shared meal of a choice of curries. The colors represent those worn by the various factions in recent Thai government protests: red for the grassroots farmers, yellow for the yellow shirts of the royalist and green for the military. (Note: the green curry is the spiciest, the yellow the mildest). 

A team of local art students are creating images in black on white walls. The drawings, which will be layered on top of each other, will be mixed. Some reference protests against Thai government policies from the past and the present. Some images will relate to this installation’s location on the Mall and include the events such as the Million Man March and The Women’s March. Tiravanija has said that his intention is that the layering will continue until there are no more clear images, only black walls.

Tiravanija’s interest is to alternate the deeply ingrained ways we interact with art by introducing different forms to consider ideas and objects. The everyday activity of eating is part of that experience which shares themes of memory, culture and community. The exhibit title also refers to a vandalism of a similar titled painting by Barnett Newman in 1982 in Berlin. Tiravanija has re-framed the question as “Who is afraid of what these colors symbolize?”   

The meal is served at noon. Previous installations in Bangkok used a burner to cook for the meal while the artists work. For the Hirshhorn, the food has been prepared by a Washington restaurant, Beau Thai.

Included in the exhibit are a series of documentary shorts curated exclusively for the Hirshhorn by Thailand’s independent filmmaker, Apichatpong Weeasethakul.

The exhibit runs at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, May 17-July 24.

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