T.J. Wilcox’s “In the Air” is the year’s second major museum installation that harks back to the 19th century moving panoramas and kindred spectacles that amazed audiences with gigantic painted vistas of mountains, cities, and seascapes.
James Nares’s “Street”, an oversized video projection of life in New York City slowed down to a glacial crawl, filled a gallery last spring at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. “In the Air” is in many ways “Street”’s opposite. One doesn’t watch it but stands inside—a continuous circle of ten screens provide a 360-degree panoramic view of the city as seen from the roof of the artist’s Union Square Studio. Not only is the vantage point different than Nares’s but so is temporality. “Street” distended time; “In the Air” compresses it. The action is pixillated so that clouds scudder across the sky and the sun is reflected in successive skyscraper windows.
While “Street” offered a thousand ephemeral dramas, “In the Air” has a majestic stillness. In a way, it’s a frozen city symphony. Manhattan appears as a natural landscape. You look north towards the Empire State Building overshadowed by a 14th Street water tower, with slivers of the Hudson and East rivers visible on your left and right and the new Freedom Tower shyly sprouting up behind. The piece is not chronologically continuous. There are dawn, noon, and, best of all, dusk sequence. The lights go on at night and airplanes dart through the darkened sky like fire flies.
“In the Air” is also disrupted by six short films, each inspired by a view from Wilcox’s studio. Inevitably, Andy Warhol is acknowleged. The most evocative of the films concerns Warhol’s helium-filled “silver flotations,” test-launched on the very day in 1966 that Pope Paul IV visited New York (an event that also figures in “Rosemary’s Baby”) and even passed below the original Warhol factgory. It’s a great footnote that, like the other shorts, would have been more effective if placed somewhere outside or below Wilcox’s captivating panorama.
Image: Whitney Museum