Actors to Stage Shallow!

Review of Day after day on this beautiful stage at Henry Art Gallery

Written by Teen Writer Maitreyi Parakh and edited by Aamina Mughal

Screen Shot 2023 07 10 at 12 38 27 PM

Day after day on this beautiful stage at the Henry Art Gallery attempts a new take on modern art that unfortunately falls quite flat—despite the interactive 3D aspects of the exhibit. Sarah Cain presents a set with couches positioned for the viewer to look upon the stage, as the name suggests. Viewers are allowed to enter both portions of the exhibit, which takes advantage of the Henry's expansive ceilings to appear all-encompassing. The piece is considered a subversion of serious abstract art, in that much of the strokes that build up the world of this set appear childish and sloppy.

A common critique of abstract art is that it is, in fact, childish. The intention of the exhibit seems to twist this view by intentionally attempting to be less serious, overemphasizing the shock factor of its components in this effort. Cain expends so much energy in trying to convey what the portions of her piece represent, that the overall impact is actually rather underwhelming. Much of the time spent attempting to glean the meaning of the stage simply concludes with "this portion was meant to represent the sky, or the sun, or the grass." Though she clearly tries to launch opposition to the standards of abstract art, Day after day falls short.

When first entering the exhibit, the title promises much more than what is actually delivered. The title is drawn from a line from the 1998 song "We Are Real" by the Silver Jews, and paints a far more expansive picture than what you walk in to see. There appear to be three main portions of the exhibit—the stage itself, the couches facing the stage, and the frames lining the back wall. The stage is akin to a child's drawing of the world that is pinned up on a refrigerator and eventually forgotten. It portrays a shallow picture of the world, attempting to overgeneralize and make meaning out of something where there is none. The setup of the stage is very literal, in that it is quite close to an actual depiction of life but pretends to be something weightier, which is a disappointing conclusion to come to as a viewer.

Choosing a mix of semi-permanent and ephemeral works in her stage and framed dollar bills at the back of the exhibit, respectively, attempts to draw broad conclusions about our world without enough substance to support them. This occurs between her choice of materials and interactivity as well, where there is often an ultra-deep and broad message that she seems to be trying to convey, but there simply isn't enough in the piece to uphold this thin interpretation. Without enough to hold these meanings up and the 'subversion' of abstract art, this piece boasts much more depth than it had the capacity for.

Sarah Cain: Day after day on this beautiful stage [Installation view, Henry Art Gallery, University of Washington, Seattle. 2023]. Photo: Jonathan Vanderweit, courtesy of the Henry.

Of course, art isn't required to have a purpose. In this matter, it is a perfectly enjoyable exhibit with many redeeming qualities. However, when it claims to be a window into the soul, it's especially stinging when it's unveiled to be masquerading as something it is not. Day after day attempts to do so much while still being an overall incoherent exhibit, perhaps intentionally. Even if it may have been intended, this lack of continuity seems misdirected, as it creates an exhibit that retains little to no meaning of its own—chaos also maintains its own sense of unity.

Cain's goal to display the beauty of life in a shocking and new way simply becomes unmanageable with the scale and incohesiveness of the piece, and it has become a mockery of the very thing it is meant to represent. It feels like a satire of life's beauty, in a rather disrespectful and disheartening manner. The exhibit is simply too vibrant, too gaudy, too disorganized of subversion to meaningfully critique the standards of abstract art or represent the world's stage.

The exhibit is not entirely lost, however. The obscenity of this piece is what allows us to evaluate our own status when we enter this stage and view our invisible audience. Day after day is more meaningful in its remarks about the viewer than about the piece itself, unintentionally conveying its strongest message through its lack of depth. After all, we do need shallow tide pools to be able to appreciate the deeper ends of the ocean, just as we need a variety of art to be able to see the depth in intentional pieces.

Day after day reaches the middle ground between the two. Though it does feel overenthusiastic in its various attempts of subversion and representation, it eventually reached a meaningful and well-loved place in my heart when I took a step onto the stage and stared back at the other visitors on the couches—and saw myself, even as many of them left. This exhibit allows redefinition of the self without a need for others, as the simple view of the world it portrays creates more depth when exploring yourself. As Shakespeare infamously said, "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players." Day after day on this beautiful stage is simply a reimagining of this message, where we are exposed to the shocking lack of beauty in our own stage.

Day after day on this beautiful stage took place at Henry Art Gallery on April 1 - August 27, 2023. For more information see here.

Lead Photo: Sarah Cain: Day after day on this beautiful stage [Installation view, Henry Art Gallery, University of Washington, Seattle. 2023]. Photo: Jonathan Vanderweit, courtesy of the Henry.

The TeenTix Newsroom is a group of teen writers led by the Teen Editorial Staff. For each review, Newsroom writers work individually with a teen editor to polish their writing for publication. The Teen Editorial Staff is made up of 6 teens who curate the review portion of the TeenTix blog. More information about the Teen Editorial Staff can be found HERE.

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