East City Art Reviews: Salvatore Pirrone String Room

By Elsabé Johnson Dixon on November 2, 2017


Photo credit: Rachel Pearl

Cultural DC’s mobile art gallery SPACE4 launched its first show on Saturday October 21, 2017 exhibiting Salvatore Pirrone String Room. On opening night, the artist, in attendance, mingled and engaged with the crowd. Studios Architecture converted a 40-foot shipping container pro bono for Cultural DC and made it resemble a white-box gallery. Currently located in Yards Park at 301 Water Street SE, SPACE4 will travel around DC in the coming months. Cultural DC will program the space over this period of time.

At first glance, String Room seems to completely immerse the viewer in a tinted Agnes Martin color grid, but the gallery staff at the entryway assures all who enter that it is okay to touch the work, even to participate by pulling at the end strings of the fibrous grid! Pirrone collected fiber yarn from Ward 6 residents and installed 20 panels, with each panel containing 250 strings. The artist carefully curated the colored strings, placed them parallel to one another and then covered them with plaster.  This process is a trademark of Pirrone’s work that generally favors pastel tints over earth tones and primary colors. Sal Pirrone explained to me that his Parsons School of Art professor and thesis advisor Tom Butter would be amused to see the amount of color infused in String Room—Pirrone was known to have only worked in white while in graduate school.

Photo credit: Rachel Pearl

The initial white blank panels with their underlying color grid matrix of strings offer the viewer a tactile as well as psychological, experience. As participating viewers pull at the ends of the string, their actions affect what the picture, or in this case, what the panel-plane looks like. Chance plays a role in determining every outcome of the pulled string. The relationship between the plaster layer on the top surface of the string and the action of pulling, determines that the plaster either comes away from the wall or that the string tears through the plaster leaving traces of color and bits of white flaked plaster on the surface of the panel-plane. This very tactile interaction leaves those pulling at the string wanting to pull more, because there is a strange satisfaction of comparing one chance pull to another.  It is the same feeling one gets when you are pulling at the ends of a wish-bone or pulling the lever on a Las Vegas slot machine. Pirrone had not anticipated the enthusiastic public response and says he did not realize that 65-70% of the strings would be removed on the first exhibition day.   The pulled strings are then left to “drip” visually to the floor, calling to mind the abstract expressionistic canvasses of Jackson Pollock, which also left much to chance.

Photo credit: Rachel Pearl

I observed a participating viewer pulling an exceptionally long diagonal string which passed through  three panels. Pirrone states that it was important for him that a surprise element always remains in the composition. He had embedded long string “outliers” within his carefully constructed string matrix. Each experience of string pulling remains unique and each resulting surface leaves an unpredictable mark. Pirrone wants to bring people as close to the artwork as possible. For Sal Pirrone,   two important elements in his process include incorporating an ephemeral quality and the ability for a viewer to participate in the work.  Pirrone emphasizes the importance of mindful engagement with his work including the way in which people enter into a space and how audiences react to the installation while simultaneously becoming aware of their own presence during the interaction. Pirrone believes that too many people still feel that art is some distant unobtainable concept that only museum curators can understand and he wants to disrupt this dynamic through interactive work.

Photo credit: Rachel Pearl

SPACE4’s inaugural String Room was a proven crowd pleaser on opening night with many actively participating viewers pulling at strings situated on the edges of Pirrone’s picture plane. The string strewn floor with chips of white plaster attested to a successful public engagement which clearly met both Cultural DC’s aim to bring art to the general public and Pirrone’s desire to make interactive work. In addition to offering a deeply satisfying engagement for the general public, the exhibition also catered to a sophisticated art crowd of museum and gallery professionals and offered a post-conceptual aesthetic that titillated the eyes, intellect and fingers.

Editor’s Note: initially, the plaster was described as “white paint.”  This has been edited to accurately describe the medium used.

String Room is on view through November 15 at 301 Water Street SE, Washington DC.

Gallery hours are Wednesday through Thursday, 2 to 8 p.m. and Friday through Sunday, noon to 8 p.m.

For more information go to: www.culturaldc.org/space-4/  or visit the artist’s website at salvatorepirrone.com

This article was funded in part by a grant from the Capitol Hill Community Foundation.  Visit their website at www.capitolhillcommunityfoundation.com