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January 29 - April 13, 2003 at MAK Center, West Hollywood

by Marlena Donohue

Trespassing: Houses x Artists raises two premises, one obvious and the other provocative. The collaboration between a New York architectural firm and nine contemporary artists invited to create dwelling spaces unfettered by any creative constraint aims to underscore the art-architecture connection. That’s the obvious one. The basic tenets of Modernism were tested and disseminated in Bauhaus structures like the Fagus Shoe Factory, Le Corbusier’s modular urban residences, and in the germinating theories behind both those, namely that pure plastic form, pure expression and truth to process could lead us beyond the luxury frame and pedestal towards utilitarian, utopian, democratic structures. The art-architecture link is ubiquitous enough. The very word post modern originated in architecture. On the streets of New York or Las Vegas is where we first began to see that free-form sampling, overlaying of past-future, classical-kitsch, neon-travertine, multi-referential quoting of shapes and signs that are the hallmark of 21st century experience and art production. Art styles, art issues and art language are writ large in architecture because these are by definition public and accessible--buildings are objects used, entered, circumambulated, seen and experienced by all. When they ‘talk’ we cannot help but listen.

In addition to the Bauhaus and the International School, you need only look at the (unfortunately wasted) American Center by Frank Gehry at Bercy, Paris or the nearly completed Disney Concert Hall to know that in apt hands the outer shell and the holding space can expand and breathe, morph and move, coddle or estrange us, put us in touch with our body and senses and common psychic origins just as surely as can a sculptural biomorph by Jean Arp or a massive Pop object by Claes Oldenburg. The pushing of these art-architecture interfaces is the crux of this marvelous show.

Jim Isermann, "Jim Isermann House,"
2002, digital image. Courtesy
of the artist and OpenOffice.

T. Kelly Mason, "T. Kelly Mason House,"
2002, scale model, installation detail.
Photo courtesy of Bellevue Art Museum.

Renée Petropoulos, "Renée Petropoulos
House," 2002, digital image.

Jessica Stockholder, "Jessica Stockholder
House," 2002, scale model, installation detail.
Photo courtesy of Bellevue Art Museum.

Kevin Appel, "Kevin Appel House,"
2002, scale model, installation detail.
Photo courtesy of Bellevue Art Museum.

Barbara Bloom, "Barbara Bloom
House," 2002, room installation.
Photo courtesy of Bellevue Art Museum.

Chris Burden, "Small Small Skyscraper,"
2002, pen on paper.

Julian Opie, "Julian Opie House,"
2002, scale model.

David Reed, "David Reed House,"
2002, scale model, installation detail
Photo courtesy of Bellevue Art Museum.
The second idea of Trespassing is less obvious and more fun: architecture for its own sake. This involves exploring how the architect might function closer to our romance of how the fine artist works, that is, from inspiration and inner necessity, with the artifact of practice being like a love child that had to come into existence, and finds a home based on its intellectual merits, its beauty or lure after the fact. Post modern scholarship on the marketing of taste, the commodification of the myth of the genius and the cult of the new have amended cautionary footnotes to that picture of inner necessity. But Trespassing asks us to imagine its application to building. Trespassing has nine artists construct spaces designed for their own sake, and in so doing posits a paradigm wherein architecture might short-circuit building design’s heavy (artistic, financial) reliance on patronage for its creative impetus to problem solving and for setting the edges of its outer limits.

In a building, the link between creation and patronage is utterly transparent, unavoidable; the client is a ubiquitous interface to creative solutions. We know that the guy(s) who paid for the brick and mortar and who will use the space have everything to do with the end result. When we enter a painter’s studio or see a conceptual installation, that complex armature of supply and demand may still be there, but well meditated, less readily traceable. For opening the door to this discourse in architecture, for suggesting a possible scenario in which the architect might work more like the artist and vice versa, this venture is to be commended.

The show’s title is rich, apt. Trespassing registers in our bones, it calls up collective, millennial, possibly hard wired mechanisms of marking territory, of saying me/mine, us/them. The resonance of the word is as ancient as the defensive walls of Jericho and holds in its logical extension all sorts of institutions that art today must deconstruct to remain viable: hierarchical social order, private vs. public, ownership vs. community, identity vs. alterity. The title is also cool because these artists are invited trespassers. They’ve stepped into the territory of the builder in an intentional collaboration. This intrusion on territoriality is a cooperation, and the results remind us that boundaries between disciplines are and should be permeable.

This show suggests in very tangible ways what we might see in architecture’s future: a paradigm shift that includes the artist/architect’s control over the whole of their practice. The catalogue notes such utopian models as practice through speculation, wherein architects speculate on land purchase and materials, fully self fund the creative endeavor retaining full vision before sending their love child out to attract someone of common spirit who might acquire and use the space for thought, growth, shelter and pleasure.

Sure it’s idealistic, and the show does not address how this ideal disjuncture between building and finances might come to pass. Yet the noted architect Schindler, in whose house MAK resides, tried the idea of building his visions on spec; and it is worth looking at. Imagine our architectural horizon if, say, I.M. Pei and Eva Hesse, or Frank Lloyd Wright and Diego Rivera could collaborate without reservation or constraint, and a Rockefeller showed up only after the fact.

Trespassing is a joint venture between MAK, the Bellevue Art Museum, curator Cara Mullin, nine artists, and architects Alan Kock and Linda Taalman of the New York firm OpenOffice. In this first of a two part exhibition there are remarkable reconceptions of the dwelling by Jim Isermann, Renée Petropoulos, Jessica Stockholder, and T. Kelly Mason conveyed in drawings, interactive multi media, plans and scale models. The second part of Trespassing, slated to open in May, will feature houses by Kevin Appel, Chris Burden, Barbara Bloom, Julian Opie, and David Reed.

The house was chosen as the space because it is so very loaded; we all know it, we all want it to be right, we all have known the lack of its harbor. Further it is an artifact of architectural production with perhaps the least latitude in terms of form and function: a house has got areas for sleeping, eating, convening. The project hoped to shake that formula up.

And so it did. Isermann envisions an intimately scaled space with a central courtyard and living areas displaced around it, the highlight being a corrugated yellow roof whose irregular ups and downs unify the ambience, work as a clerestory, and breathe life into static walls.

Petropoulis constructs her space as a forest of signs--in the linguistic and literal sense. The space for one or more families would be marked and defined the way a multi-use, polyglot and quintessentially post modern gas station minimart is, not by actual barriers but by dispensers, accoutrements, signage, and spontaneous social configuration. In her vision of a house based on the syntax of a gas station minimart, Petropoulos envisions the fluid functions of her model--nurturance, meeting place, resting spot, trading post, counter-culture haunt--echoed in space markers provided by the designer and arranged by house inhabitants to construct a free floating, ever changing sort of metastructure. Each family or inhabitant could pick and choose the minimart consumer artifacts and self design their space to suit a current need.

These designs are not necessarily walls/barriers in the traditional sense. “Space” here is marked by, say, memory in the case of Barbara Bloom’s design , or by intangible light passing through transparent panels in Julian Opie’s modular design [both included in part 2 of the exhibtion--Ed.]. And that’s another neat idea raised here: as our physical space contracts, as virtuality and reproduction reconfigure the very meaning of space, as site specificity becomes a greater issue for the artist/architect in dense, diverse urban settings, we will have to redefine our notions of site and enclosure. In these conceptions, space is not always physical (though it can be) but sculptural, composed, constructed, fluid, mental, visual, personally defined, in flux, contextual and as such in perfect step with our experience.
Though they raise similar questions, these amazing installations, virtual plans, models, and other artist responses that you will view go beyond conceptual art/architecture works like Rachel Whitehead’s casting in solid concrete a discarded Victorian house in the streets of East London. The spaces here are presumably livable solutions, inhabitable spaces where the issues of engineering and function have been seriously considered, however predominately by the right side of the brain.