Painting in the Round

Published in The Philadelphia Inquirer | Museums and Galleries Friday, January 16, 2004
By: Edward J. Sozanski, Inquirer Art Critic

Normally paintings on a wall offer the viewer only two spatial orientations.  One can stand close or distant, dead center or off to one side. But Michelle Oosterbaan has created a novel option: standing inside a painting.

She has transformed the Morris Gallery at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts into a three-dimensional picture that surrounds the visitor.  Walls, ceiling and portions of the floor are covered with bands and blocks of vibrant color that connect opposite sides of the room.

The scheme aims to transform the architectural space into an energy field through color interactions.  Ideally, the room should eventually dissolve, but that doesn’t happen because the six component surfaces remain distinct.

Despite this, the concept of being inside a painting remains appealing.  Perhaps the problem is this space, with its two doorways and strip of skylights.  The idea might be more effective in a less distinctive space.