Visual Arts Lauren Klenow — August 1, 2011 13:39 — 5 Comments
Mad About Mad: Why Mad Homes Disappoints – Lauren Klenow
During a recent discussion at Gage Academy of Art, executive director Pamela Belyea guided students through the daunting task of how to price their artwork. One of Belyea’s primary points is that Seattle is a third-tier art market; behind New York and Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, and Miami, our collector base just can’t compete with the deep pockets of our neighbors to the east and south. While creating an economic and mental paradigm shift to establish a more serious collector base in Seattle is not the responsibility of local artists, creating artworks, projects and exhibitions that catch the attention of curators and collectors beyond King County certainly is.
When I first heard about the Mad Homes project, on view through August 7th in the north end of the Capitol Hill neighborhood, I was dizzy with its potential. ENTIRE houses to be used as blank canvases—stairs, hallways, rooms, cupboards, the inside and outside, lawns, porches and roofs included. Artists were even allowed to cut through walls, floors and the fleeting architecture that is about to be demolished.
As I walked through each of the four houses on opening night, I couldn’t help but feel that this project is a complete missed opportunity, by the artists and curators alike. The spaces hardly transcend their original domesticity, and few of the installations take advantage of their unique surroundings—they would function just as well in a white walled gallery as they do in these abandoned rooms, steeped in the lingering presence of those who had lived there. These houses stand as a testament to craftsman-style architecture that favored the hand built over the prefabricated, that paid attention to how a door closed or the way a wall met the ceiling, but the installations unfortunately do not approach their respective spaces with the same level of care. Nor do they outwardly confront the poignant and underlying reason for the show: that these beautifully crafted houses are being demolished to make room for yet another set of condos, that the residents displaced by the development most likely can’t afford to move back in.
I ultimately became frustrated walking past so many vacant rooms and hallways—I wanted these houses to be teeming with artwork, creativity exploding from them. From a curatorial perspective, if you weren’t going to fill all the rooms (such as one directly at the top of a staircase where there could have been an extraordinarily beautiful moment of discovery handed to the viewer) with the work of hundreds of local artists practically crawling over each other for a chance to exhibit their work, why leave that door open? Why confront us head on with the misuse, or lack of use, of this abundant space?
Parked in front of the houses are a few large sculptural works whose placement reduces them to glorified lawn ornamentation—suggesting that they were a bit too heavy to bother moving into a more intentional arrangement. Laura Ward’s ambitious latex casting of one of the homes speaks to my general frustration with the project: a limp shell of what might have been. The carefully cast sheets of latex draped over a generic armature do not include the specific details of the home’s original shape. The house, more than five times as big as the sculpture, stands right next to it, unintentionally mocking our futile attempts to hurriedly create something and instill it with meaning only after the fact.
Other works such as Troy Gua’s shrink-wrapped house, and SuttonBeresCuller’s strapping and ratcheting installation are impressive for their scale but are ultimately redundant and don’t offer any deeper discovery. I’m surprised that Gua wasn’t more intentional about the effect of light coming in and out of the home, that views from the windows weren’t intentionally more distorted, and that he made no suggestion of what being inside a “commodity” of consumerism might feel like. SuttonBeresCuller allude to the tension created between the two homes they entwined: “Hypothetically, continually ratcheting up each strap could create enough tension to pull the homes off their foundations collapsing the two atop one another.” Yet, the lines of the strapping more readily conjure thoughts of slacklining, a popular activity in Capitol Hill’s Cal Anderson Park, than elicit any kind of domestic tension or fear that the lines might actually collapse the houses.
Being familiar with the creators of this project and most of the artists involved, I champion them for all the hard work that undoubtedly went into creating and organizing each piece. However, I wanted the project to incite more than a pat on the back for a job well done; I wanted these homes to knock me off my feet with their inspiring manipulation of space, confounding use of materials or obsession with detail that holds meaning and function. This project had the potential to make magic happen in our very own neighborhood, but the curators’ and artists’ ill-consideration of space is more analogous to the upcoming condos than the existing craftsman-style homes. Instead of taking advantage of this opportunity, Mad Homes is, unfortunately, another example of why Seattle is a second-rate contender in the art world. As Seattle artists and curators, it is our responsibility to meet or exceed the potential of projects such as these, to redefine art and art experience in meaningful ways, so when it comes up in conversation yet again why Seattle isn’t a bigger player in the world of art, we can have something point to, and prove them wrong.
The answer isn't poetry, but rather language
- Richard Kenney