In early April, I visited the Bay Area’s latest trendy-place-the-yuppies-go, i.e. Pace Gallery in Palo Alto. My partner and I ventured into enemy territory (#gobears lol) to take a look at the gallery that all my hip friends were Instagramming.
I had never heard of Pace prior to seeing my influencer friends’ Instagram feeds, but it turns out that the Pace is kinda a “thing” and describes itself as a “leading contemporary art gallery.” It has locations all over the world such as Beijing, New York, and Paris. Currently they have an exhibition featuring renowned light & space artist James Turrell (I did not see this exhibition).
Pace Palo Alto is located 300 El Camino Real in Menlo Park. It’s actually in a kind of random location– next door is a small hotel and across the street is an oil change + car service. It seems hard to access without a car as well. I don’t know the public transport situation of Palo Alto at all, but the gallery seemed to be away from the main drag of the town so it’s not exactly centrally located.
I didn’t know what to expect so I went in with a pretty open mind. The price of admission is $15 for students, and $20 for adults.
By the time we arrived, there was a pretty long line to get in (we came on a Saturday afternoon). Thankfully the queue moved pretty quickly and we were immediately thrust into the exhibit, with “Light Sculpture of Flames” as the first piece.
The exhibit, “Living Digital Space and Future Parks,” featured the works of Japanese group teamLab. All of the twenty installations involved some sort of digital component– whether that be the coordinated, programmed flickering LED lights to mimic a flame (pictured above), projections (“Black Waves in Infinity”, pictured below), or strictly digital works on LCD screens.
In teamLab’s own words, the installations “will in invite participants of all ages to immerse themselves in multi-room environments” and described the exhibit as a “digital playground.” Many of the works were interactive as well, further emphasizing the immersive nature of the works.
I especially enjoyed “Flowers and People” — a room with projections of flowers that bloom and move according to the movement of people in the room. If too many people are in the room at once, the flowers wither. It was nice to just sit on the floor and watch the flowers grow and drift around us.
I found the Instagram favorite, Crystal Universe, to be a little underwhelming. But if you like glittery things and LEDs, you’ll probably love it.
The more strictly light+projection installations were definitely very cool, but I also enjoyed the pieces that had clear Japanese influence. One installation, “Ultra Subjective Space” explored the use of perspective in traditional Japanese works. We know that the use of perspective to create depth in paintings and images is a fairly “modern” idea in art. For example, in the Ancient Egyptian picture below, we get a sense of where objects are in the picture only by relative size of objects and whether they overlap.
Contrast this with painting below by Pietro Perugino (1482 C.E.). From this painting, you can get a more realistic sense of depth and distance between objects in the foreground and background. However, perspective clearly took a long while to perfect. This fresco and the Ancient Egyptian picture were made 2800 years apart! As you can see, depth and perspective as an artistic concept has not existed since the beginning of time.
Interestingly enough, traditional Japanese artworks employ a different perspective than ancient “flat” perspectives and the above more modern ‘linear’ 3-D perspectives. teamLab conjectures that traditional Japanese artworks use a uniquely Asian perspective which they explored in “Ultra Subjective Space.”
I found these installations very interesting, but felt that much of it would be lost to a viewer who is not familiar with Ukiyo-e. Their digital re-interpretation of Japanese perspective was really interesting, and I recommend you read up on their blurb if you have the time! Fascinating, but somewhat dense stuff.
Pace Gallery Palo Alto features a curated array of installations that are sure to delight patrons of all ages. They also had some interactive installations that were specifically geared towards children (but were engaging enough for adults too), if kids are your thing.
If you’re interested in New Media, the intersection of art and technology, etc., Pace is worth a stop.
However, if you’re not especially interested in the digital art space, the price tag ($20 regular admission) does give pause. With just twenty pieces, this puts the viewing price as $1/installation, which is pretty steep if you compare this with other institutions (imagine if MoMA charged that!). While I had a great time viewing the works, nothing was mind-blowingly amazing and I feel as though you could get ‘more bang for your buck’ at other galleries or museums. I understand that art takes time/effort and should be priced as such, but I do feel like it was overpriced, especially given the fact that the facilities of the gallery itself were rather lacking (somewhat dingy interior that appeared to not have any ventilation).
I would say that Pace Gallery Palo Alto shows promise. I hope they upgrade and expand their facilities. It is interesting what the gallery will be like in the years to come.