I like art that I can instantly understand. For a long time I tried to define that as my critical reasoning.
But some art requires further explanation. It may not take very long, but context is helpful.
A case in point is Oscar Murillo’s current installation at this year’s Venice Biennale entitled, “Frequencies.” Long tables exhibit often doodled or childish canvases. At first examination, it looks like a collection of outsider art, a reflection of the 2013 Biennale, which mixed in the works of non-traditional artists with many household names. As the tables were manned by staff, I asked one of them, “What’s the meaning behind these works?” and the staffer launched into a story about how the blank canvases were sent to school children around the world. They were given the brief to express themselves and then return them.
At times, the canvases are reminiscent of sweet, but common get-well cards; others seem like the bored collaborative drawings of children still gaining comfort with writing utensils in a digital age. But together as a body of work, they are a powerful statement on the visual arts, expression and the values of 2015. Who are the heroes that these children look up to? I caught multiple sports heroes from brief glances, Disney characters, and many drawings of animals. What are the common themes amongst them? Are there values they all share even as they lack geographic commonality? I definitely saw common themes around climate change and hope. But as the staffer showed me dozens of canvases, one symbol caught my eye. The repeated heart in many colors, across continents, around the world.
Murillo gave canvases to children to reveal to audiences that collectively “All The World’s Future” believe in universal values. In traversing the globe on the search for art and meaning, it was a powerful reminder that the journey is worthwhile.