Posted by: gaurikaushik | December 13, 2021

Table for 500 Review

Table for 500, 2021, by Rua McGarry was an exhibition that was displayed in the Blanchard Dining Commons as part of a broader collection of exhibits by Mount Holyoke students called Art Unexpected ‘21. The exhibit displayed five place settings with dinnerware that had “been rendered unsuitable for food and drink and now functions solely as an art object” (McGarry). It featured dinnerware such as plates and utensils that had been altered through the mediums of newspaper, acrylic paint, mod pod, and glitter. According to the artist, the concept aims to refer back to students taking decorative plates from Blanch in the spring of 2019 as a response to increased tuition. This project, McGarry writes in the description, allows students to take another piece of dinnerware from Blanch.

Although I was unable to view all of the installations of Art Unexpected ‘21, of the few I did see, this one caught my eye for a couple of reasons. For one, Table for 500 was placed in a very central location, one that all students are compelled to visit in order to eat. It was also an interactive work of art.

What I found most interesting about this exhibit was the interactive portion of it. Viewers of the exhibit were encouraged to take an art object from the table, while leaving something of their own behind. I thought this was an interesting concept, as it resulted in the viewing of everyday objects as pieces or components of a larger art piece. McGarry stated rhat the purpose of the interactive portion of the piece was to explore “how exchange can function outside of assigning monetary value to art” (McGarry). I thought this was interesting because the significance of art is often measured by its monetary value, and McGarry was allowing their art to be taken in exchange for common, everyday objects like a granola bar.

The result of the interactive portion of this piece was that it was difficult to tell which pieces were originally part of the installation, and which were additions by students. Trying to guess adds a different, entertaining element to viewing this installation, but taking in the whole exhibit as art without picking apart which components could be everyday objects left behind by students is also interesting. For example, I thought the plate and the cup were surely part of the original exhibit, while the paper swan and flower and balloon animal in the picture above could have also possibly been part of the art installation, although they could have also been random objects left by students. On the other hand, I thought of how the granola bar in the cup symbolized the meals of a college student: always on the go and just a little bit chaotic

As someone who knows next to nothing about critiquing art, I do believe that even after much of the original artwork has been taken, the exhibit still has the appeal of a contemporary art installation. If anything, it’s interesting to see what students choose to leave behind and how they interact with the piece.

It was also interesting to see the progression of the installation over time. Although I didn’t have the chance to take pictures of it throughout the course of the exhibition, I saw items appearing and disappearing as I walked by the exhibit every day. This photo, which was taken once a day or two before the exhibit was taken down, shows the last objects left on the table. I thought this was interesting because the description specifically stated to exchange a personal item for one of the place setting objects on the table. It’s compelling to think about how things that were left by other students could have been perceived as art and taken in exchange for something else. 

An intriguing thought I had while walking past this exhibit multiple times a day for the length of its installation was that even though there were random objects lik Tums and toothpaste on the table, I was hesitant to interact with the installation myself. For some reason, I felt that the intrigue of the art would be altered if I myself participated in it. Upon further introspection, I came to the conclusion that while I could dream up the significance of the objects left by other viewers and draw connections between the components of the installation, if I added something of myself, I would know exactly what I was thinking and why I added the random thing I did. To me, this would have decreased the value of this art piece.

Overall, I enjoyed the concept of this exhibit. For me, though, it was more reflective of the idea of collaborative art. I found a deeper connection to the way people interacted with this art piece and the objects they left behind, instead of reflecting on the idea of taking dinnerware from Blanch.


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