The Norton's "Altered States" is a relatively small show that traffics in big art. There are just over two dozen works by four contemporary artists, but the scale of the pieces tends to be big and the themes even bigger. One temporary site-specific installation — Jose Alvarez's Vibrating Strands of Energy — is about 13 feet by 56 feet and incorporates a doorway in its center. Another Alvarez piece, We Came From the Stars, consists of four contiguous panels, each 44 inches by 72 inches.
There's a hallucinogenic sheen to Alvarez's imagery, which is often so vibrant that it threatens to dance off the canvas. The same can be said for Fred Tomaselli's big mixed-media collages, which sometimes incorporate the literal trappings of psychedelia — pills, marijuana leaves, magic mushrooms — into forms that resemble gigantic mandalas or massive strands of DNA. And then there's Leo Villareal's trippy ceiling installation of intricately programmed flashing lights, best seen when you're lying on your back.
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In terms of ideas, we're talking cosmic here, as in the expanding universe and spirituality and the portals of perception. These three American artists seek not so much to re-create drug-induced experiences as to tap into higher visionary realms. Their visual extravagance is balanced by the presence of Yayoi Kusama, an octogenarian Japanese woman who takes a more austere but no less contemplative approach. Together they make up a quartet whose work delights the eye and stimulates the mind and spirit — not a bad combination at all.