Searchlight:Consciousness at the Millennium

September 25, 1999 to December 11, 1999

Comprised of over 50 works, Searchlight: Consciousness at the Millennium surveys 30 years of international contemporary art to reveal how consciousness has evolved as one of the most compelling artistic themes of our time. Significantly, consciousness is understood by the artists in this exhibition, not as an ethereal, mystical force, but rather as our everyday awareness, the very sensation of being alive. Searchlight unites 30 contemporary artists-some of whom have created installations specifically for this show-and wide-ranging approaches and themes.

The exhibition illuminates the often subtle and sometimes surprising ways in which these works share the ability to lead us to a fuller experience of consciousness. The works range from social commentary to abstraction, from secular to spiritual approaches, from personal expression to anonymous meditations.

Consciousness is often defined as awareness or experience: it is the substance of perception, memory and feeling. It could be argued that consciousness has been the primary subject of Western art since the modernist revolutions of the 19th century shifted artists' goals from the direct representation of seen reality to the expression of felt experience. In the past few decades, however, this exploration has become much more focused and, fueled in part by exciting new scientific discoveries and renewed philosophical interest in the subject, artists have developed a plethora of means to express the various characteristics and sensations of conscious experience.

Searchlight spans three decades of artistic practice, uniting through the common thread of consciousness works that might never be seen together-the contemplative abstract paintings of Ad Reinhardt and Agnes Martin; Louise Bourgeois' sculptural "cell" newly created for this exhibition; Rosie Lee Tompkins' elegant quilt made from thrift store fabrics; the complex multimedia installations of Gary Hill, Stan Douglas and Bill Viola; Papua-New Guinean Cristabel Davé's bark cloth paintings; the understated instruction pieces of Yoko Ono; and a playful film by Samuel Beckett to cite just a few examples. Taken together, these works begin to assemble the profoundly complex and necessarily relative nature of what we understand as "aware experience" at a portentous moment in history.

Searchlight also incorporates cutting-edge architecture with 12 unique, free-standing structures designed by John Randolph, cofounder of the Interim Office of Architecture (IOOA), and by Gyroscope, an exhibition design group. These structures, conceived as chambers of consciousness, contain individual works of sculpture and installation art and were each built according to the artist's exact specifications.