Habitable Pictures, 2001, view from exhibition at the National Gallery in Prague
finalist Jindřich Chalupecký Award , 2004
"I am mostly interested in architecture as a reflection of the moral and political substance of our time; formed by our society and forming us in turn; a tool for the perception and analysis of reality."
Isabela Grosseova crates what she calls “habitable paintings”—essentially paintings on the wall that can be used by viewers as interior design units for sitting and conversing, for reclining, or as a storage device. Of course, there is something fundamentally weird and provocative about sitting on, or perhaps in, a painting; lying down on one; or opening the closet-like doors of another.
In the process of merging painting, architecture, and design, Grosseová assigns a practical, yet altogether startling, use value for abstract painting. But what’s particularly impressive is how Grosseová’s unorthodox works function very well as paintings per se. Rooted in a vibrant minimalism, they juxtapose three or four solid colors as rectangular blocks and these spare ensembles are typically lustrous. Moreover, each utilitarian touch—for instance attached cabinet doors that can be opened and closed, or an attached table and facing chairs—are integrated into the whole painterly design, in a way that really scrambles the distinction between not only representation and abstraction, but also furniture and abstraction. The gracefully curving wooden arc where one lies could easily be a vivid painterly gesture (of a mutant variety, however, one that has morphed from two dimensions into three and in the process acquired a chunky tactility), while the cabinet doors that one opens very much resemble the prevalent squares and rectangles of geometric abstraction.
This eye-catching work is smart and adventurous, but it also asks significant questions about the status of paintings in this era. Of particular interest to Grosseová is the fact that many contemporary houses, designed by architects, are generally inhospitable to paintings altogether, since design itself is the key, not “decorations.” Moreover, one can readily surmise that the people who inhabit such houses typically opt for the latest in furniture and design, and not the latest in painting. Grosseová’s functional paintings infiltrate this situation and subvert it for her own purposes. By incorporating austere, yet elegant and ultramodern furniture into their forms, her works open up new possibilities for painting in a prevailing social milieu weighted toward contemporary lifestyle and not contemporary art, and they do so with humor, irony, conceptual precision, and also a keen visuality.
For her residency at Art in General, Grosseová extended her “habitable” project to include “habitable sculptures,” a collection of hybrid furniture concocted from items found in various neighborhoods of New York City. While the designs seem eccentric, even outlandish, these sculptures-as-furniture are rather minimal, in keeping with Grosseová’s less-is-more aesthetic. The seat of one chair consists of a discarded satellite dish found near a housing project in the Morrisania section of the Bronx, while the chair’s back is made from a fan found near Maspeth, Queens. A bizarre chaise lounge is made of a metal furniture rack and attached heavy-duty, wire mesh found on the Lower East Side, while another chair incorporates the rotors of a ceiling fan from Washington Heights, a picture frame found outside of a Roosevelt Island hospital, and chair legs from Jamaica, Queens. In each case, the materials, no matter how humble and seemingly innocuous, are wonderfully suggestive of where they were found, including the neighborhood’s ethnic and class makeup. These found materials, re-assembled in Grosseová’s sculptures, also raise questions of ownership: Who did these things belong to? How were they used? What is their history?
Grosseová is interested not in exquisite, but rather in mundane design, for instance plug-in fans and discount commodes, grade school metal chairs and standard wooden shelves, because that’s precisely the kind of design used by the vast majority of New Yorkers everyday. In Grosseová’s hands, this becomes melting pot furniture for a melting pot city.
Two photographs printed and mounted as wallpaper in a corner of the gallery depict decidedly unspectacular houses in Jamaica, Queens. Arranged in front of these life-size photographs are Grosseovás “habitable sculptures,” forming a domestic tableau that responds to the city at large, with all its mixing cultures, conflicts, and rampant energies. Grosseová also excels at juxtapositions. Her objects seem familiar but at the same time utterly strange. While these might pass as sturdy furniture (although hardly designed for maximum comfort), the sculptures also seem precarious and vaguely nerve-wracking. Like Grosseova’s paintings, these new sculptures are meant to be used, and in fact depend on viewer participation. One can lounge on them, and move them around in the gallery, which makes everything nicely casual and convivial. Then again, the constant fluctuation of the sculptures in the gallery evokes the roiling city of New York, with its ever-changing neighborhoods, contests for living space, and immigration patterns. This residency was Grosseová’s first encounter with New York. During her stay, she traveled extensively throughout the five boroughs, especially to diverse neighborhoods far off the usual tourist routes. Habitable Statues might be a synthesis of this, but moreover, this project significantly broadens Isabela Grosseová’s quirky synthesis of architecture, art, and design.
04. 01. 2010 09:13:00
|Copyright F-CCA | Web by SVEN creative 2007 | screen by rgb|