New York’s Park Avenue Armory may have played host to one artist-devised space mission to Mars, but the University of California at Riverside’s (UCR) ARTSblock gallery has chronicled the brief but rich and eclectic history of artist-driven astronomy in its new exhibition “Free Enterprise: The Art of Citizen Space Exploration.”
“We have purposefully not included artists who stopped at metaphor and allegory,” Tyler Stallings, exhibition’s co-curator and the director of UCR’s Sweeney Art Gallery, told the Los Angeles Times. “There are many artists who are interested in space, but we were looking for those who had a serious desire to connect with the aerospace industry.”
The exhibition comes at a moment when the typically state-driven realm of space exploration has been burst open to private enterprise, with space cargo, space tourism, and space ports all becoming a reality in recent years. Accordingly, the final frontier no longer seems so final, and artists are increasingly setting their sights beyond the stratosphere.
“It is important to ensure that as access opens up it isn’t available only to for-profit companies who want to go to the moon and mine minerals, for example,” Stallings tells the L.A. Times. “By including culture at the beginning you ask the bigger ethical, moral and philosophical questions. At this point no one owns the moon, no one owns space, but those questions are going to begin to come up… The title ‘Free Enterprise’ is meant to capture all that ambivalence.”
The exhibition, which opened January 19 and continues through March 23, includes projects by some 25 artists, collectives, designers, and amateur space exploration initiatives. Among the more unusual projects are Richard Clar’s 1982 project “Space Flight Dolphin” (at top), a scheme to launch a dolphin-shaped satellite into space that would transmit the water-borne mammal’s noises into space in hopes of attracting alien life. Another attempt to take planetary animals into space comes in the form of German artist Agnes Meyer-Brandis’s plan to develop her “Moon Goose Colony” (above), which she hoped to accomplish by training a flock of geese to fly to the moon.
The exhibition also features experiments artistic and otherwise conducted during zero-gravity and variable gravity flights, artworks launched into orbit — including pieces by Warhol, Rauschenberg, and others clandestinely sent to the moon aboard Apollo 12 — and much more.
— Benjamin Sutton
(Top image: Richard Clar, “Space Flight Dolphin,” 1982. Illustration by Edgar Duncan. Courtesy the artist. Bottom image: Video still from Agnes Meyer-Brandis, “The Moon Goose Analogue: Lunar Migration Bird Facility.” Courtesy the artist.)