Working The Room
How contemporary art is embracing the furnished environment
How we live is communicated through the lens of fashion, art, architecture and design. Recent exhibitions in New York have featured applied design, such as ceramics and furniture as well as living environments that function as installations. Exhibited recently at Lehmann Maupin Gallery, Korean artist Do Ho Suh faithfully executes in diaphanous, transparent materials the traces of brick-and-mortar architectural forms that activate one’s recall and memory of personal spaces. His site-specific installations cleave to the size of an actual house: Design features such as bathroom and kitchen fixtures become personal and cultural sites rather than simply utilitarian objects.
Paul P created low mahogany tables, woven woollen rugs and paintings for his solo exhibition at 1602 Gallery and for the 2014 Whitney Biennial. The furniture was inspired by British 19th century designer and architect E.W. Godwin – a member of the Aesthetic Movement that included Oscar Wilde and Edward Burne-Jones. By referencing the sexual identities that often mark the Aesthetic Movement, Paul P. imbues furniture and design with a homosocial narrative. “The furniture is bound to my practice somewhat freely, attaching itself to literature and aestheticism and in that process alluding to certain lives lived. The desk sculpture Escritoire Nancy, was designed to be occupied by Nancy Mitford, one of the famous Mitford sisters, who, through the sharp polarity of their good and evil ways, seem to have touched everything that came to define the last century.” Paul P. in conversation with Anke Kempkes, Toronto, October 2013.
As artists embrace lifestyle in their work, is there a different exhibition model that counters the impression that the only way to feature contemporary art depends on a lifestyle-free pristine white box? In Chelsea the white box rules supreme. Hauser & Wirth’s Chelsea location is an example of the white box at its best: a large mutli-gallery whose pristine walls dare not intrude into a viewer’s relationship with the art on view. However, for its newest gallery and artist residency space in the English countryside, Hauser & Wirth brings contemporary art into conversation with the stuff of life by using a converted farmhouse replete with antique furniture, printed wallpaper and gardens. And on the Upper East Side, Gallerist Vladimir Roitfeld takes molding and all into his townhouse gallery and rather than detract from their visual power, the ornate and sumptuous gallery interiors make the viewer realize how much contemporary art can joyfully intrude into our living environments. Wayne Northcross