Tuesday, September 22, 2009

At home with Installation Art


The Wall Street Journal magazine (European edition) is a glossy quarterly dedicated to the good life, as envisioned by corporate high-fliers. It has articles on fast cars, oversized jewelry, exotic destinations and world culture. I ended up thumbing an issue left on my seat at a recent layover, and was fascinated by an article depicting the hazards of Installation Art.

The business of creating, trading, and collecting art is complex and subtle (Sarah Thornton’s Seven Days in the Art World is a fun introduction). Much of the art that patrons take home can be hung or mounted beneath a focused spotlight, giving character and style to the surrounding space. Installation Art, though, is different: they are designed to transform space rather than to complement it.

Ron Mueck’s outsized, lifelike sculptures of distorted human figures are a good example. These compositions are amazing in museums, but what would it be like to have one move in with you? They require outsized rooms for display and laborious cleaning to maintain their integrity. They dominate the space around them. It’s hard to imagine normal life in a room occupied by one: could you encourage casual dinner conversation when a naked giant hovers over the table?
The article concludes that few buyers are able (or willing) to adapt their homes and lives to the demands of these three-dimensional compositions, even questioning whether these pieces can still offer some promise of profits and respect. It’s all relative to scale, I suppose. In a small space, any work that dominates the room also defines it. In my apartment, the only thing that carries that weight is my collection of books, overflowing shelves along the facing wall. Many Dutch homes are similar: plants, pianos, and bookshelves paint a public face behind curtainless windows to tell passers-by something about the tenant.

Still, maybe it would be fun to be the only one on my street with a giant looking back out.

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