Hayon at the High: Playing with Art

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DESIGN SHOULD: IMPROVE THE QUALITY of our lives, have meaning, make us feel good, and add a dash or two of happiness to the planet. So says Jaime Hayon, who is checking these boxes and more with his second outdoor installation at Atlanta’s High Museum of Art. Merry Go Zoo, on view June 24 through November 26 in the Woodruff Arts Center’s Carroll Slater Sifly Piazza, is the Spanish-born artist-designer Hayon’s second and the museum’s fourth site-specific installation commissioned to animate the museum’s outdoor space and engage the public in innovative ways.

Merry Go Zoo features four whimsical, colorful, anthropomorphic, extra-largish (up to 15 feet high and 10 feet wide) figures. The playful polyurethane pieces rest on round steel and wood bases, or plinths, which are interactive and integral to the installation’s concept; the figures can turn, and the bases spin.

Hayon, whose award-winning work is typically created for indoor use and from luxury materials, was intrigued that the plinths of most public sculptures are for looking at but not touching, as are the majority of statues. With Merry Go Zoo, he questions that convention. His figures invite viewer participation from the base up. Hayon’s hope is that “people have fun and are able to appreciate the sculptures as ‘your friends,’ challenging the idea of sculpture being an object.” Furthermore, he hopes the work fosters “a new way of connecting art and people.”

Jaime Hayon – © Hayon Studio

That’s exactly the point, says Sarah Schleuning, curator of decorative arts and design at the High. The broad goal of these installations, for which the museum commissions designers for two years, is to activate the piazza and increase community interaction with the arts. And it has worked. The Renzo Piano–designed piazza has been transformed from an “architecturally beautiful but very quiet” pass-through into a true community gathering space, Schleuning notes. Parents say they no longer have to coerce their children into visiting the museum. Area arts organizations hold regular performances on the piazza, integrating the installations into plays, dances, operas, and concerts. The reach extends beyond the museum grounds; a partnership with Atlanta’s Midtown Alliance resulted in Hayon’s Shadowmaker, an interactive sculpture at the Arts Center’s transit station.

Encouraging more people to venture from the playful piazza into the museum is a next step, and an objective of Technicolor, a concurrent Hayon installation. Inspired by aspects of Tiovivo, the designer’s 2016 piazza installation, Technicolor comprises six large-scale tapestries and six stacked ceramic pieces, all commissioned by the museum. The woven tapestries, created at the Tilburg Textile Museum’s (TextielMuseum) TextielLab in the Netherlands, experiment with texture, dimensionality, color, and a variety of materials, including wool, mohair, paper, rubber, and fiber optics.

Jaime Hayon – © Hayon Studio

Being able to create a new installation while also expanding on last year’s has been a perk of working with designers for two-year periods, Schleuning says. Last year’s Tiovivo not only inspired Technicolor, but its reach now exceeds city limits: SCULPT.C, one of its sculptures, was permanently installed in the North Carolina Museum of Art’s Discovery Garden in March.

Merry Go Zoo, while quite different from Tiovivo, also exudes the designer’s characteristic sense of play—and he’s keeping his fingers crossed that it’s contagious. “I am of course hoping Merry Go Zoo can spread some joy,” Hayon says. But his aspirations don’t end there. Best-case scenario? “Visitors can fall in love.”