Art / Architecture / Museums

Museum Mondays: Snail Space by David Hockney at the Smithsonian

Washington, D.C. is home to some of the most amazing museums in the world. Even better, most of them are free. This is my first feature on specific works of art that I find interesting and want to share. I love art of all kinds, and if this particular piece isn’t your cup of tea, don’t worry, all types of art will be featured here.

First up is Snails Space with Vari-Lites, “Painting as Performance” by David Hockney. It was created between 1995-96. Hockney was born in Bradford, England but adopted California as his home. Many believe that Snail Space summarizes his career and his belief that art should “overcome the sterility of despair.” Hockney used to arrange canvases around his studio, paint the floor, and invite guests to step into the world of his paintings. This installation does much the same.

Below, this is actually just one single painting. The angle of the light, and the hue of the light, changes and transforms the painting. Here are highlights of the changes:

I passed this painting by many times. It is set in this huge box of a black room with a single bench in front. Often I didn’t have time, or dismissed the image as another abstract. Sometimes the intimacy of young couples sitting on the bench, transfixed, arms around one another, head on the other’s shoulder, made me feel as if I were intruding.


After more than twenty visits to this museum, I finally had a chance to sit and fully experience it last week. The change of colors is beautiful. It reminded me of all the times I’ve bought a paint color for my home and it looked different than I’d imagined. It reminded me of the light shows in my own garden as the sun moves over the trees, causing each in turn to be spotlighted for a few seconds — so incredibly beautiful.

I hope you enjoy the photos as much as I did the installation!

8 replies »

    • Yes, it really does have that effect, Jacquie. I hadn’t thought of that. Isn’t it amazing how the angle and hue of light can so completely transform a work of art, its colors, and the overall experience? It reminds you how wonderful life is, and how often we forget to stop, be still, and enjoy it.

  1. It use to be in an enclosed room- it was very intimate being in a room with a large, living, changing painting. Unfortunately I assume it was too intimate thus the newly opened back of the room

  2. Love that you covered this. I worked in DC from 2013-late 2014 and used to go sit in this installation weekly, usually on Friday, to clear the palate from all the government policymaking blah blah blah. It was in a black box theater installation at that time. Definitely one of my favorite memories of living/working in Washington.

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