At the Hudson River Museum, Art With an Inflated Sense of Itself

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The artist Jimmy Kuehnle's "You Lick Me, I Lick You," foreground, and "Super Punch Bubbles" at the Hudson River Museum in Yonkers. Credit Ken Lax

The artwork created by Jimmy Kuehnle literally fills a gallery at the Hudson River Museum in Yonkers, pressing against walls, spilling over a railing and nearly obstructing passage. Outside, bulbous forms engulf the entrance's austere geometric archway with what resembles two colossal lapping tongues, and they encircle the limestone tower of Glenview, the Victorian mansion on the museum grounds.

There are six works in "Tongue in Cheek: The Inflatable Art of Jimmy Kuehnle," a please-touch exhibition of gigantic, boldly colored fabric constructions whose biomorphic shapes rely on the constant presence of air inside them. Fans whir as the pieces beckon visitors to lean into them, to prod and poke and feel the response of the unexpectedly robust sculptures as they push back.

The experience begins with the tongues, a site-specific outdoor installation titled "You Lick Me, I Lick You." Made with 360 pounds of bright red polyester material, it drapes the contours of the arch, its pillowy sides bordering the stairs that lead to the museum's lobby. It splays onto the sidewalk, massive, yielding (though quite durable), its color vibrant against the concrete building behind it.

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The inflatable "Super Punch Bubbles" encircles the spire of Glenview. Credit Ken Lax

Before walking through, look up to see another site-specific work, "Super Punch Bubbles," ringing the top of Glenview's spire, where 10 huge red punching bags seem to burst through the now-obscured windows. The work holds 100 bulbs, so at night it glows like a luminescent necklace. The installation serves as a clock, flashing on each side to mark the quarter-hour.

Although it appears to be 10 separate sections mounted outside, "Super Punch Bubbles" is in fact a single inflated doughnut-like object that originates inside the tower. "It's a tube that goes all the way around and is stuffed out of each window," Mr. Kuehnle (pronounced keen-lee) said. "It's not tied to anything. When the wind blows, it pulls in on itself, and all the pressure is in the mullions. " (During high winds, the installation will be temporarily deflated.)

When he discusses his work, Mr. Kuehnle's spirited voice betrays his enthusiasm for surmounting the challenges he introduces with each new creation. Tall and energetic, with reddish-blond hair, he is a sculptor, performance artist and assistant professor at the Cleveland Institute of Art. When crafting his inflatables, he is also part electronics engineer, part industrial designer, part computer programmer, part physicist, part architect and part tailor.

As a college student in Missouri, Mr. Kuehnle built zany bicycle assemblages that he pedaled around town. He continued working with bicycles in graduate school in Texas, where he also produced constructions using cathode-ray tube monitors. "I would haul around 30 or 40 televisions," he said. "I remember thinking, 'This is so mu ch work. I could make something inflatable that would be so much easier to transport.'"

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"Hello. Bye.," left, and "You Wear What I Wear," two of Mr. Kuehnle's inflatable costumes. Credit Ken Lax

Mr. Kuehnle, who turns 37 this month, created his first inflatable a decade ago, shortly before earning his M.F.A. He began sewing oversized, air-filled, attention-getting costumes that caught the wind, sometimes blowing him into traffic or toppling him over. His largest suit to date is a 600-pound amphibious model he fabricated in 2014, when he participated in "State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now" at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark.

Two of Mr. Kuehnle's costumes are on view at the Hudson River Museum. One, "Hello. Bye.," has the two words of its title printed in puffy yellow letters on opposite sides. The costume, with its bulging red arrows pointing this way and that, would swallow most of the artist if he were wearing it. His face would be visible from the front while his feet would stick out the bottom. "I don't like captive performance," he said. "With this, I can communicate with people even if they don't want to give me the time of day."

A second suit included in the exhibition, "You Wear What I Wear," features dozens of purple, pink and orange dangling appendages. "I made this one so the air can flow through all the spaces," Mr. Kuehnle said. "It looks really big but I can spin around in it. I can run as fast as anything. It's like my Miata."

While acknowledging the pure fun of Mr. Kuehnle's suits, Bartholomew Bland, the curator of "Tongue in Cheek" and the museum's former deputy director, offered a more theoretical perspective. Mr. Bland, who is now director of the Lehman College Art Gal lery in the Bronx, noted a parallel between Mr. Kuehnle's costumes and the "Soundsuits" created by the fashion and sculpture artist Nick Cave. Mr. Bland placed the two men within a contemporary artistic trend: "It's this idea of concealment," he said, "of enclosure and disguise. The suits are a kind of battalion armor. When you're inside them, you can lose your inhibitions. You can become one of Jimmy's characters. You can be somebody else."

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Mr. Kuehnle in the museum with "Hot Polyester Bladder Lung," left, and "Please, no Smash." Credit Ken Lax

In the adjacent lower main gallery, two enormous works become players in a perpetually thwarted but eternally hopeful love story. The pieces, the fuchsia "Please, no smash"and the bright yellow "Hot Polyester Bladder Lung," their fans humming, occupy the entire space save for several passageways, some requiring museumgoers to shove their way through.

Both works are illuminated from inside. "Please, no smash," from 2015, is static, squished in from floor to ceiling. Like the punch bubbles that ring the Glenview spire, it is a clock, with lights on its lower extremities that blink in quarter-hour increments.

The site-specific "Hot Polyester Bladder Lung," designed to extend over a parapet and around a staircase, is kinetic. Through an ingenious blow-and-suck fan arrangement, the piece breathes.

Viewers can watch from the upper- or lower-level galleries as its lights begin to blink and its vast form droops. Gradually, strikingly, it deflates for about a minute, its flashes slowing until it hangs dejectedly. Then, after a pause, it starts to reinflate as the blinking accelerates. Fully expanded, it nudges up against "Please, No Smash," the friction causing an occasional rustle.

"It's like it's kissing the other one," Mr. Kuehnle said. "The lights are flashing and it's all excited. They hang out there for seven minutes. They nuzzle and they smooch. Then, for whatever reason, this one rejects that one and it comes down. But it gets up its mojo and it says, 'I can go up there and kiss it again.' Which is my favorite thing."

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