If you thought Avatar was a good movie, you'll probably love Light 



Cheekwood's 2013 answer to the 2011 Chihuly blockbuster is over the top and glamorous, and will make you feel like you're in your own private version of Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" video. Make no mistake: Bruce Munro's Light is not good art. It is, however, great entertainment.

Light is spectacle. At the opening on May 24, an artist friend said it reminded him of shopping at Walgreens at night, and in the same breath professed his love for it. Another friend said it reminded him of Bonnaroo's corny, self-important aesthetic, but he's already planning a return visit. Light is fun. It's like a James Cameron movie — it won't change the world, but it will probably make a lot more money than a film by Lars von Trier. It's art for the masses, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Light is broken into 10 different pieces, and extends throughout the gardens and into the mansion. "Water-Towers" is a ring of 40 columns, made out of plastic seltzer bottles filled with LED lights and fiber optics, that blasts self-serious Muzak — it might make you think of the inside of Doctor Who's TARDIS or the background from your high school prom photos.

"Field of Light" is the exhibit's showstopper. Twenty-thousand glass spheres are attached to stems that run across Cheekwood's front lawn like a windswept wheat field. It's a dreamy, atmospheric wonderland, and the lights change colors just slowly enough to make you feel like you're in a trance — imagine the tube around a 1950s jukebox, or the way a campfire can change from blue to white to red.

If Light was only "Field of Light," it would have been interesting enough to warrant repeated viewings. It is the big, beautiful landscape in a CGI-heavy movie. The lesser scenes — particularly "Light Reservation" — are more problematic.

"Light Reservation" is a cluster of DayGlo teepees made from fluorescent tubes that blink on and off like the visual effects at a dubstep concert or a display at American Apparel. It is a shocking anomaly in an otherwise benign exhibition, and Munro's treatment of Native American imagery as if it is not a living and breathing culture is difficult to understand. The artist's description of the piece — "The installation is about my enthusiasm for the imagination; but I also hope that 'Light Reservation' presents people with an opportunity to ponder both the good and bad aspects of our recent history" — seems tacked on, and it's troubling to consider that no one told him it was a bad idea to co-opt Native American culture, particularly right now when stories of cultural co-opting are all over the media, as in the controversy over a model wearing a Native American headdress on a Victoria's Secret runway, the photo shoot of actress Michelle Williams made up in "redface" on the cover of AnOther magazine, and the lawsuit against Urban Outfitters for selling "Navajo" panties. Each of those instances came with denials and embarrassment. It will be interesting to see if "Light Reservation" makes it though the summer.

It's probably best to look at Munro's art through an uncritical lens, enjoying the spectacle without expecting much intelligence or substance beneath it. That isn't the point of Light. It's a fantasy party on the lawn of a mysterious millionaire, or the last scene in a Baz Luhrmann film, or a song by Celine Dion. If you walk through it expecting inspiration and nuance and innovation — if you're expecting great art — you'll be disappointed, and you'll miss out on the weird, glam sideshow that Light really is.

Email arts@nashvillescene.com.



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