Kenneth Willardt’s “Size Does Matter”: A Building-Sized Woman, Bunnies, and Augmented Reality


We wonder daily whether social media actually tears us apart. Is Twitter some false bridge to idle chatter? Does Facebook leave us depressed and alone? But we are reassured by certain institutions, centers of (we hope) “real” social interaction. Set apart from the rest of the rushing masses, the art world has managed to maintain, for the most part, a lot of these old social structures. Whether artists and aficionados are gathering at galas or galleries, they get a lot of face time. But after hundreds of years with the same mingling routine, openings are only exciting for a select few, and foreboding for those not in-the-know.

On Thursday night in Chelsea, Kenneth Willardt’s opening for his debut solo exhibition, “Size Does Matter,” shook this structure up. On 21st Street, attendees were greeted by Robyn Lawley’s naked body, projected on the side of a building opposite 558 Gallery. Tarantulas crawled over her stomach, then a Great Dane licked her face. The building went dark, then one by one, each window lit up. Powered by a giant projector on the roof of the gallery, this outdoor art made clear that Willardt’s first show would be a grand opening.


Inside, Willardt displayed eight photographs of Robyn, each accompanied by a QR code. When viewers scanned the codes with an AR viewer iPhone app and then observed the photographs through their phones, Robyn’s menagerie came to life again. The bunnies hopped, the owl flapped its white wings.

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Kenneth wanted his opening and exhibition to be “an experience on many levels.” He’d seen large-scale projection mapping on buildings in Shanghai, but never in New York. “What they’re doing with the projections on the buildings, it’s bigger and grander,” Willardt said. “I don’t see why New York should not be able to keep up the pace with them. We should be doing these things all over the city.”

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It was an enticing spectacle, but more than that, the huge projections extended the reach of Willardt’s exhibition. His photographs were not only available to those invited to the opening, but accessible to people who waited outside, even for people driving up 11th Avenue. Willardt described it as “social art,” connecting a larger web of people like the many apps we use online.


The augmented reality aspect proved to increase accessibility as well, not only between observers and artwork, but between people. “I saw people helping my mom out because she doesn’t know how to use her iPhone,” Matt Starr, Willardt’s new media consultant, said. “It sparked conversations. At a gallery, you can stand there and stare, but it doesn’t allow for that same conversation. I think new media has created a dialogue between these strangers. It created this air of jovialness.”

Delight started on the street outside and continued through to the after-party, where a table upstairs was crowded with enormous wheels of cheese, a roast pig, strange sliced fruits, and bricks of honeycomb. It was all candlelit, momentarily medieval.


Photos courtesy of the artist

The entire event was an expression of abundance in a world that’s often too self-conscious to share broadly. Kenneth Willardt enthusiastically meshed new media technologies with fine photography, resulting in an opening both awe-inspiring and accessible. Starr, who collaborated with Rachel Weaver and Taylor J. Bryant, called the experiential piece “an act of artistic integrity.”

“No one was buying our 3D projection mapping,” he added. “There was no price on it; it was for everyone. I think that takes a lot of guts for a well-known artist to do, especially in Chelsea.” Willardt will continue the series and hopes to make it a traveling show, going next to Shanghai. His WILD Wish is to show at Louisiana, in Denmark. Wherever he goes he will gather crowds, connect the people who stare up in wonderment, and inevitably recharge the world’s gallery-going experience.

text by: Ella Riley-Adams

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