The Aesthetics of Information: Norwood Viviano’s Global Cities at the Grand Rapids Art Museum

Artist Norwood Viviano is interested in the imprint of human activity, and systems that are employed to organize and deliver information. The collection and application of information and statistics may seem anomalous to artistic practices, but there’s a lot of room for creative interpretation. A very prosaic example is the Facebook Friend Wheel (designed by a 19 year old Computer Science student at Bath University), which allowed individuals to create personalized diagrams so lovely, that users willingly offered-up access to personal information.

Global Cities opened November 19, and is on-view at the Grand Rapids Art Museum through February 7, 2016, after which it will travel to the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery.

Viviano Global Cities II

When Viviano spoke at the GRAM November 21, he traced the trajectory of his work from the past fifteen years. He opened with a discussion blown glasswork, which he’d largely abandoned until a recent return to Pilchuck Glass School, (founded by Dale Chihuly). Viviano’s interest in migration is evident in many series– First Generation Artifacts chronicles the history of émigrés through a series of cast bronze objects, Mining Industries uses 3-D printing to translate the topography of urban centers from LiDar scans into cast glass.

Global Cities continues with the themes explored in Mining Industries and, Cities: Departure and Deviation. Global Cities includes suspended blown glass forms based-upon the rotated line graph charts tracking the changing population of various cities. Maps are positioned directly below the corresponding forms, and the back wall displays a diagram that lists the featured cities and their population growth. It is a serenely beautiful installation that appeals more to the viewers intellect, than their emotions.

Viviano Global Cities III

Information graphics, known under a variety of terms, present information in a manner that is easier to absorb than text or mere numbers. For example, something that intrigued Viviano was that the pendant forms representing cities of vastly different sizes, can sometimes be very similar, because they illustrate patterns of growth, not the number of individuals. Ever-interested in the connection between economics and manufacturing upon population, he indicated that a significant bump in population growth for Seattle, was the direct result of Microsoft establishing itself in the suburb of Redmond.

The aesthetics of information, and systems of organization have long been the subject of human interest and scholarship. Early examples include astronomical charts, family trees, and maps. Line diagrams, and pie charts existed as early as the 18th century. For centuries, maps have been produced with an objective beyond description of topography. Modern artists associated with Surrealism, Situationists International, and Fluxus, all produced works inspired by maps.

Contemporary artist Mel Chin has also engaged in aesthetic practices that involve the collection and presentation of information. Chin’s Operation Paydirt: Grand Rapids, was included in the 2013 ArtPrize exhibition, I AM: Money Matters, at KCAD Fed Galleries. Started in 2006, the Paydirt initiative not only increases awareness about the danger of lead poisoning to children, but has raised funds and worked with regional governments to actually remedy the problem. It’s an excellent counterpoint to the criticism that reducing human tragedy to infographics based on numbers is dehumanizing or sanitizes unseemly information, and in light of recent news regarding the lead content in Flint’s water, it is particularly salient.

Viviano is an Associate Professor of sculpture in the exceptionally vibrant art department of Grand Valley State University. His work is included in private and institutional collections.  He’s represented by Zolla/Lieberman in Chicago and Heller Gallery in New York.

Global Cities is part of the “Michigan Artist Series” at the GRAM, started in 2012 under the leadership of Director Dana Friis Hansen.

Norwood Viviano: Global Cities
November 19 – February 7, 2016
Grand Rapids Art Museum
101 Monroe Center, Grand Rapids, MI 49503

Hours:   Tu, W, F, Sa, 10-5
Th, 10-9
Su, 12- 5

Admission: $8 Adults, $7 Seniors and Students (w/ ID), $5 Age 6-17
Free–Tu, Th, 5-9, and for GRAM Members


– Tamara Fox


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