I love to look at art that is hung on walls, partly for the strange joy of making security guards nervous as I get my face as close as possible to the art, taking in all of the details. And I'm still disappointed that we're usually not allowed to touch the work, because touch is such an intrinsic part of human experience. I'm not even really talking about human contact, though that's part of it too, but I find specific textures and sensations, such as a coarse woven cotton dishtowel, or a soft, humid, rain-tinged breeze in the summer, or standing on a bed of rocks while ankle-deep in a creek, to be weirdly exquisite experiences.
These moments, for me, both inspire art and feel like art, so I'm particularly drawn to art and experiences that appeal to my senses in multiple ways. At the Baltimore Museum of Art you can pass through Felix Gonzalez-Torres' 'Untitled (Water),' a glorified bead curtain which is just like any other bead curtain (no shade on bead curtains; I have one in my house) except it's giant. Walking through the piece does not, by any means, match up to the pleasure of diving into a body of water, but it's something else entirely. Nearby in the Contemporary Wing, there are a couple of big, bubble-gum pink and lavender blobby sculptures by Franz West that you can sit or lie on or maybe even try to get yourself stuck in, somehow.
"I am for art you can sit on," the sculptor Claes Oldenburg wrote in a 1967 manifesto called "Store Days." "I am for art you can pick your nose with or stub your toes on." Oldenburg is known both for his large-scale pop-art public sculptures and for smaller, more gallery- and museum-sized soft sculptures that mimic ordinary items: a broom and dustpan, a badminton birdie, a spoon with a cherry. (And by the way, he worked collaboratively with his first and second wives, Patty Mucha and Coosje van Bruggen, respectively, on much of his work, but all the credit tends to go exclusively to him.)
The work is primarily concerned with everyday objects: "I am for an art that embroils itself with the everyday crap & still comes out on top," he writes. And that runs through his whole oeuvre. The soft sculptures—a droopy toilet, a light switch, a big pillowy slice of pie, big soft cigarette butts—were what he was advocating for in "Store Days," before he started focusing more on public sculptures, which were literally more rigid and industrial and, frankly, super boring compared to the earlier, dopier, soft sculptures.
About half a century after the emergence of those works, from the endlessly giving trove of the internet, we discovered a wonderful thing called Jelly Gummies, a blog featuring a series of lumpy, bubbly, and often creepy animated GIFs and images by the Scottish illustrator Sam Lyon. The humanoid forms in the GIFs have most definitely cascaded deep down into the uncanny valley. Personal favorites include this pulsing lumpy baby-man, a jumping man's face that also looks like a chunk of bread, and this inexplicably most horrifying pale blue undulating androgynous face. (I shudder at those porous lips.)
Now of course the dopey purple manatee and the oily banana and the leering carrot are much less horrific than the humanoid ones; these ones straddle the line between uncanny and just plain goofy. Lyon's Instagram offers, perhaps, too many answers about how he does it, as does this interview with him, where he talks about the programs he uses (which are free and downloadable and fun, so have at it). I'd much rather pretend that this stuff can only exist in a weird corner of the internet.
Lyon also makes some physical objects, the aesthetics of which, naturally, match up with the computer-rendered stuff. He's made some normy coin purses out of liquid latex molds of some round and stylized faces. There's something about this process—taking something that felt incredibly fucked up and uncanny, and making it into a functional object—that pulls it out of the uncanny valley real quick.
As you scroll farther back into the Jelly Gummies archive, there's this older one that seems so different from the others that I don't think it qualifies as a "Jelly Gummy" proper, as it's not animated or modeled in the same way—this crushed cigarette. I can't help but wonder if it's trying to summon Claes Oldenburg. Does Claes know about Jelly Gummies? Can somebody tell him? "I'm for an art that is combed down, that is hung from each ear," Oldenburg wrote in that manifesto, "that is laid on the lips and under the eyes, that is shaved from the legs, that is brushed on the teeth, that is fixed on the thighs, that is slipped on the foot.
"square which becomes blobby." If I am to take his words from 50 years ago as a truth that remains today (and I am), I think he'd appreciate what Sam Lyon is doing here.