The works in the Hirshhorn’s new “Suprasensorial” show are meant to be interacted with rather than merely viewed.

Museums generally discourage their guests from interacting with the art. But Hirshhorn senior curator Valerie Fletcher arranged the pieces in “Suprasensorial: Experiments in Light, Color, and Space” to increase participation, not only because that made design sense, but because the Latin American artists featured were populists whose abstract work was geared toward everyday people. (The term “suprasensorial” refers to multimedia active-art spaces, constructed with low-cost materials.) But how does one become immersed among a crowd in a museum environment?

“Patience is helpful,” Fletcher said. “The Hirshhorn is a round building, and people tend to go cruising through. Being able to experience [the works] in peace and quiet is something that’s helpful.”

Fletcher also suggests viewing the installations a second time. “With the first work [in the exhibit], by Julio Le Parc, people come through and clear out — and I go back in,” she said of the 1962 piece “Light in Movement,” which features metal squares hanging against a wall of mirrors and illuminated by two spotlights. “When there’s just one or two people in there … the circulating reflections that move around the space on the walls slow down.” When more people come through, the metallic squares move more and the reflections speed up.

“Suprasensorial” also presents Jesus Rafael Soto’s 1999 work, “Blue Penetrable BBL” — made of hundreds of suspended nylon strings that guests can walk through — and the hippy-pad happening that is Hélio Oiticica and Neville D’Almeida’s 1973 work “Cosmococa No. 1: Trashiscapes,” which features projected photographs and psychedelic music in a room filled with blue mattresses that patrons can flop down on. The final piece is Lucio Fontana’s 1951 piece “Neon Structure for the IX Triennial of Milan,” a swirl of light that hangs above the Hirshhorn’s escalators and seems to move as viewers ascend and descend.

Some of these immersive ideals are manifest now in video games. And Fletcher said the works in “Suprasensorial” are a precursor to games “in the sense that [they require] a slightly heightened sensibility.” But unlike fast-paced video games, Fletcher said these installations’ “very nature invites you to [slow down and] appreciate their subtleties.”


Paris-based artist Carlos Cruz-Diez coined the term “suprasensorial” to describe his philosophy of experiential art. His 1965 work “Chromosaturation,” above, is featured in the show; it’s actually three rooms doused in hues that change as the viewer moves in the space.

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Independence Avenue and 7th Street SW; through May 13, free; 202-633-1000. (L’Enfant Plaza)