If you say “interactive art exhibit” aloud three times, a 30-minute line spontaneously forms and your Instagram feed floods with different angles of the same room. In 2017, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden put the “it” in “exhibit” with Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrors. In 2018, the hot spot was the National Building Museum’s Fun House installation. In May, the Hirshhorn got back in the game with Rirkrit Tiravanija: (who’s afraid of red, yellow, and green), where guests can eat Instagram-worthy curry near working muralists.
The artist, Rirkrit Tiravanija, creates art to be consumed, but he would prefer for you to experience the moment rather than post it to social media.
“I have to always think, ‘how can I slow them down?’” he says of the way he’s had to alter his process in the digital age. Tiravanija started creating interactive experiences in the ’90s, including cooking pad thai for gallery guests and building an exact replica of his apartment where people could cook, bathe, and relax.
He likes to “make things you cannot capture,” he says, and with (who’s afraid of red, yellow, and green) “you can’t capture everything in one shot.” Tiravanija says that today we’re eating faster and moving faster. He intends to slow down the pace and have visitors put their phones away as they eat.
Tiravanija cooked curry for guests himself in the first iteration of (who’s afraid of red, yellow, and green), which was conceptualized in Bangkok in 2006 at the height of the Thai military conflict between factions known as the red shirts and yellow shirts. The three colors of the involved groups, the green uniforms of the military and the shirts of the two divided factions, mirror the three curries in Thai cuisine.
The curry at the Hirshhorn is from District favorite Beau Thai, where the curry paste is made from scratch and the recipes go nearly ingredient-for-ingredient with Tiravanija’s grandmother’s. When Beau Thai won the bid to be the curry-purveying partner for the exhibit, the artist sent over a familiar list of ingredients. “The only exception is that we took out the potatoes and red onions we usually put in the yellow curry,” says Beau Thai co-owner Ralph Brabham. The restaurant will serve seven liters of each curry and 42 cups of rice to about 100 visitors from 11:45 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. from Thursday to Sunday until the exhibition closes on July 24.
Visitors are encouraged to dump their dirty bowls and walk through a glass door to two conjoined screening rooms. Each features a series of documentary shorts about farm life in rural Thailand curated for the Hirshhorn by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand’s leading independent filmmaker. After the exhibition’s nurturing assault on all five senses, the dark, cool, and quiet screening rooms feel like an earned respite.
Around the curry station, 18 local artists (and two from Tiravanija’s studio) draw charcoal murals onto the walls of the Hirshhorn’s subterranean gallery space in four-hour shifts. The original (who’s afraid of red, yellow, and green) featured charcoal murals based on newspaper photos of Thai political demonstrations. Those images, in addition to archival newspaper photos of American demonstrations spanning from the Civil Rights era to the Women’s March, are projected onto the walls for the artists to sketch. Tiravanija hopes that the imagery will provoke thought and force the viewer to be in the moment while considering the past. “Being in the literal location of things, when you go back out onto the Mall, I hope you remember the images you saw,” he says.
At the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden to July 24. Independence Avenue and 7th Street SW. Free. hirshhorn.si.edu.