Blow Up: Inflatable Contemporary Art

An EC student views an installation by Chicago-based artist Claire Ashley at the Elmhurst Art Museum. (Photo by Stefan Carlson)

Art is normally not a word associated with inflatable objects, such as balloons and bouncy houses, yet these objects have made their way into the art world. This can be seen in “Blow Up: Inflatable Contemporary Art,” a traveling art show based out of the Bedford Gallery in California that is currently on display at the Elmhurst Art Museum.

Both Jenny Gibbs, the executive director of EAM, and Lal Bahcecioglu, EAM’s exhibitions coordinator were thrilled that the museum was chosen as one of the exhibit’s stops. Both felt that the inflatable art is something all ages can enjoy.

“Everyone from grandparents to children to students can find something fun and interesting in this exhibit,” said Bahcecioglu. “There is no need to be an art person to enjoy this exhibit. It is extremely accessible.”

Gibbs noted that it is the very nature of the inflatables that make them appealing.

“The exhibit reminds many people of things they know and they want to interact with it,” she pointed out.

As the show is a traveling exhibit, the way the pieces — which range from abstract art to realism — are displayed has varied from place to place, Gibbs acknowledged.

“The superheroes are normally displayed standing, but they are superheroes so we made them fly,” Gibbs acknowledged.

She also mentioned that “Somehow I Don’t Feel Comfortable,” a piece by Momoyo Torimitsu comprised of two enormous pink inflatable bunnies that tower intimidatingly over museum patrons, is sometimes placed in a much larger room. However, to make people feel more uncomfortable, the choice was made to put them in the smallest room the bunnies would fit in.

Another notable section of the exhibit is made up of six pieces by local artist Claire Ashley. Her pieces are made of hand-sewn PVC-coated canvas and spray painted in a graffiti style, adding a touch of whimsy to the inflatables.

Although most of the pieces are not interactive — meaning that running around and bouncing on the art is not acceptable — there are a few pieces which provide patrons with some inflatable interaction.

For example, “Birth Death Breath: An Inflatable Opera,” a companion exhibit by Chicago artists Diane Christiansen and Jeanne Dunning, is made up entirely of inflatable Christmas lawn decorations. The exhibit depicts three different scenes visitors are encouraged to walk through as the decorations go through a cycle of inflating, singing and then deflating.

Another interactive exhibit is “Little Blow Peep,” a community project by Donna Castellanos where people of all ages can decorate a latex glove, blow it up like a balloon and tie it to either Little Blow Peep or her sheep, adding their own inflatable art to the exhibit.

“Blow Up: Inflatable Contemporary Art” will be at the museum from Sept. 10 until Nov. 27. The extension, “Birth Death Breath: An Inflatable Opera,” will be at the museum from Sept. 22 until Nov. 27.