The Hirshhorn’s latest exhibition wants to get under your skin. This isn’t the kind of art your eyes glaze over. It’s equal parts welcoming and confrontational, communal and isolating. Created by the Thai artist Rirkrit Tiravanija, who’s afraid of red, yellow, and green combines food (in this case, red, yellow and green curry) with protest art. It’s a mix of the temporary and the evolving. The curry in your bowl will break down as you eat it, but the murals depicting protests in Thailand and the United States will continue to grow with the exhibition.
Tiravanija is known for pushing the boundaries between art, artist and viewer. While his past pieces have involved communal eating (and communal living), this is the first time the Hirshhorn has allowed food in the gallery space. Dotted with wooden stools (and a water station that I discovered slightly too late), who’s afraid of red, yellow, and green establishes a fascinating atmosphere. You’re not quite sitting alone, but you’re not quite sitting together. Instead, there’s a lot of accidental eye contact while you watch the local artists fill in the stark black and white murals.
And those murals are haunting. While there are slight glimpses of hope (hope is probably not the right word, but there is something glorious about the images of people coming together to fight for a collective cause), there’s far more anguish. Between images of cops brandishing guns (while smoking cigars) and scenes from the Million Man March, there’s an especially brutal image of a man hanging from a tree. You can’t tear your eyes away from them. The images are all encompassing, especially as they’re being sketched right before your eyes.
If you’re lucky enough to visit between 11:45 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. between Thursday and Sunday, you’ll get to fully experience Tiravanija’s installation, and by that I mean, you’ll get to try the free food. Cooked by Beau Thai, the red, yellow and green curries are (unsurprisingly) delicious. The food isn’t an after thought here, it’s a key piece of the experience. There’s the juxtaposition between the bright colors of the curries and the monochrome images on the walls, but more than that, there’s something about staring at these images and having the spice from the curry on your tongue. It makes the pain feel closer, and to know you’re doing it (eating, watching, thinking) as a group, heightens the experience.