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BLOW UP II: Inflatable Contemporary Art was a Supersized Exhibition

A group of visitors looks at BLOW UP II: Inflatable Contemporary Art at the Gregg Museum of Art & Design near the closing of the exhibition.

“BLOW UP II: Inflatable Contemporary Art”recently exhibited at the Gregg Museum of Art & Design and had jumbo appeal to go along with the mammoth inflatables featured.

The exhibition, which included the work of nine artists, explored the medium of inflatable art with figurative, conceptual and abstract imagery. During the exhibition, the Gregg Museum welcomed over 6,874 visitors, including a record-breaking 1,400 visitors on the closing day of the exhibition.

Guests especially enjoyed viewing the artworks as they were inflated each morning and deflated in the evening over the final week of the exhibition.

Inflatables have a long history and association with holidays, celebrations and vacation memories. This unique traveling exhibition, organized by Bedford Gallery, takes the medium, more familiar in balloons and bouncy houses, and creates a unique, immersive environment that inspires deeper contemplation. The artists whose work is featured in “BLOW UP II: Inflatable Contemporary Art” use air as an active tool in their work to surprise viewers and subvert their perspective. By increasing the scale of these objects, and placing them in a gallery setting, the artists ask the viewer to perceive the pieces in an unfamiliar way.  

Artists featured in the exhibition include Nicole Banowetz, Sharon Engelstein, FriendsWithYou, Joshua Harker, Susan Lee-Chun, Matt Ritchie, Lizabeth Rossof, Jen Stark and Max Streicher. For many of these artists, the medium was a new challenge that created an opportunity to reflect on themes of consumerism, pop culture, history, and even mortality.

Some convey a surreal sensibility through oversized scale or an uncanny human connection, like Streicher’s sculptures that appear to be living, breathing beings. Each day, these massive sculptures live their full life cycle as deflation takes their shape and life from them in the evening, and the air brings them a new cycle each morning.

The exhibition was highly accessible for multiple generations, with big, colorful and imaginative pieces that invite the young, and subdued, thoughtful pieces which encourage more introspection. A favorite was artist Lizabeth Rossof’s “5 XI’AN AMERICAN WARRIORS” series which subverts cultures as she translates stone and Chinese history into portable American pop culture idols. 

This exhibition drew in many new visitors to the Gregg. “Students, young children, adults, and elderly all seemed to come for this exhibition which was quite fantastic to see. Not only did this exhibition bring a wide age range of people, but it also embraced the University’s DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) representation really well with the great diversity of people that came to the exhibit,” student ambassador Amanda Benwire stated. We look forward to many more exhibitions that expand the Gregg’s audience.

The Gregg Museum’s next exhibition, “Material Messages: the Tales that Textiles Tell ,” will open on March 21 with an opening reception that evening at 6 p.m.

ICYMI — “BLOW UP II: Inflatable Contemporary Art” will be making its next stop at the Portsmouth Arts & Cultural Center in Portsmouth, Virginia, opening February 24. “BLOW UP II: Inflatable Contemporary Art” was curated by Carrie Lederer and organized by Bedford Gallery in Walnut Creek, California.