As my eyes scan the vibrant colors and geometric shapes that splash up the walls at Rice University's Moody Center for the Arts, my shoe catches the edge of a tile. The stumble interrupts my train of thought as I’m rudely reminded that the sculpture and wooden floorboards of the Moody are separate.
Hundreds of brightly colored tiles comprise Repeater, a life-size puzzle that scales 24 feet up the walls, creating a technicolor blanket that brightens the minimalist wooden floors and white walls. Vibrant green, pinks, blues, yellows, and black pack a visual punch. But don’t be mistaken by the magnificence of the exhibit: It’s made out of hundreds of tiles that you can find at any hardware store.
Brooklyn-based artist David Scanavino uses the familiar tiles intentionally. Looking at any one of the tiles unlocks a host of my own fond and not-so-fond memories at my high school, the DPS, the library, the grocery store. From the large arrows pointing to the corner space or the black and green pathways that carve out a trail through the sculpture, Scanavino encourages the public to reconsider its relationship to everyday spaces by warping and distorting their dimensions. In fact, Scanavino was inspired by his high school—funnily enough, those all-too-familiar speckled squares were probably what a young Scanavino stared at while contemplating his future as an artist.
But when you zoom out from the individual pieces, the sculpture looks vastly different at every angle, whether you’re walking on top of the sculpture, ascending the stairs, or looking over the balcony. Each perspective offers a new view of couples strolling along its surface, friends capturing selfies for Instagram, and even two furry friends cocking their heads as they admire the feat.
Scanavino created the work to be influenced by and to influence the Moody’s public space, which suggests a give-and-take between the space and the public; however, this is something that the Moody has struggled to establish in the months following its February debut.
The Moody has faced criticism about the lack of student work and the commission of outside artists who fail to understand the surrounding community. For me, it seems like artist Scanavino has touched on this sore spot without even knowing it. It was both disappointing and unsurprising to hear Scanavino struggle to answer a simple question at the work's inauguration about how Rice inspired his work. His fumbled response seems to imply that it didn’t.
Yet, Scanavino was commissioned for the project months ago when the Moody was still under construction, giving him ample time to consider the context for his work long after he visited the space. You have to ask: Why call the sculpture a site-specific work if it could be moved from its location at Rice University with no change to its meaning?