The Hidden Meanings Behind The Enormous Inflatable Art At Benton

A 25-foot reclining Buddha. Two pink bunnies scrunched up against the ceiling. Inflatable art at Benton Museum

What's the difference between a huge Macy's parade-style character balloon and a piece of large-scale inflatable art?

It's the hidden meanings.

A giant parade Spider-Man is just Spider-Man. There is no angst or subtext. A child, however, can look at an artwork by Momoyo Torimitsu and be delighted by the two ceiling-high inflatable pink bunnies, while that child's parents might notice how cramped the bunnies are against the ceiling and figure out that Mr. and Mrs. Bunny might not be happy.

Torimitsu's smiling but uncomfortable rabbits — which are intended as a statement against the "Hello Kitty"-dominated "cuteness culture" in Japan — are part of the summer show at William Benton Museum of Art in Storrs. Most of the exhibit's artworks can be interpreted in multiple ways, making the exhibit a good summer outing for all ages, especially if it's followed by a trip to the UConn Dairy Bar.

Guy Overfelt's replica of Burt Reynolds' blinged-out Trans Am from "Smokey and the Bandit" is cool-looking, as well as being a lighthearted jab at a macho cultural icon. By making a muscle car poofy, Overfelt shows how silly such iconography is.

Patrick Flibotte explores a similar theme with his inflatable superheroes, who face off against each other in the gallery. Should we really be in awe of these men of steel if the flip of a switch would shut down the air blowers and sink them to the floor? The irony of the delicate crime fighters will be lost on kids, who will just love that the rival tough guys are 19 feet tall.

Billie Grace Lynn's "White Elephant" is exactly that, a beautiful sculpture in its monochromatic simplicity. But it's also a musing on the history of white elephants in Asia and the folk tale of a dream of a white elephant had by Buddha's mother. Another Buddhist-themed item is Lewis deSoto's "Paranirvana." Young ones will be wowed by the massiveness of the 25-foot reclining Buddha. Adults will notice that Buddha's face is not really Buddha's but that of a regular man. deSoto's wall text explains that deSoto put his own face into the artwork to challenge the viewer "to consider how he or she will face the inevitable moment of death." Don't tell that part to the wee ones.

Two bop bags — which children are advised not to bop — are recognizable as being designed by Nick Cave, as they replicate Cave's well-known Soundsuit patterns. Another bop bag, designed by the artist collaborative FriendsWithYou, will delight children with its polka dots and goofy grin, but adults may find its face creepy. Fatboy's "Big Dog" series may inspire kids to go home and try to make balloon animals themselves. Adults will notice they are inspired by Jeff Koons' Balloon Dog sculptures.

The abstracted "Live Rock" by Lee Boroson is a cluster of natural and man-made things found on beaches. It's entertainingly weird-looking but also a bit sad, as it shows the natural world polluted by trash. Among the bits of trash, ironically, is an inflatable water ring.

"BLOW UP: INFLATABLE CONTEMPORARY ART" is at William Benton Museum of Art, 245 Glenbrook Road, on the UConn campus in Storrs, until July 31.

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