Larger Type
Smaller Type

Search Collections

Snails Space with Vari-Lites, "Painting as Performance"

1995-1996 David Hockney Born: Bradford, England 1937 oil on two canvases, acrylic on canvas-covered masonite, wood dowels overall: 84 x 260 x 135 in. (213.4 x 660.4 x 342.9 cm) Smithsonian American Art Museum Gift of Nan Tucker McEvoy © 1995-96, David Hockney 2003.31A-X Smithsonian American Art Museum
3rd Floor, East Wing

Gallery Label

Snails Space is both a summary of Hockney's career and a poignant example of his belief that art should "overcome the sterility of despair." It grew out of his practice of arranging separate canvases around the studio, painting the floor, and inviting his visitors to step into the world of his paintings. The scale of Snails Space recalls Hockney's gigantic landscapes of Mulholland Drive in Los Angeles, canvases that offered the sensual experience of driving through the canyons of his adopted home. Here the artist painted the two attached canvases and floor piece to look like a tiny, tangled world blown up to a preposterous size. Three-dimensional and painted patterns and shapes suggest enchanted forests and streams. These appear to advance and recede with the changing colors provided by a nine-minute computer program, and the viewer follows these shifts as he would the episodes of a stage play.

The installation unfolds as a kind of silent performance that evokes Hockney's experience of designing sets and costumes for operas even as he lost his hearing. In the absence of sound, pure visual experience compensates and suggests a different narrative to every viewer. The title offers a pun and a suggestion from the artist. To sit in this installation through the entire cycle of light shifts is to take time for what Hockney called "the pleasure of looking" that leads us to understand "how beautiful the world is."

Exhibition Label, Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2006




paint - acrylic

paint - oil

fabric - canvas

wood - masonite