In reality or fantasy, many of us consider building our own homes, but how many have designed a space purely for play? For our first art tour of 2015, we met at ‘Moun Room,’ Thomas Houseago’s giant maze-like enclosure at Hauser & Wirth that originated from his desire to make a sculpture park for himself, friends and his collection. The huge, three-tiered piece, decorated with circular shapes resembling the moon in various phases, ended up being more personally meaningful for the artist when its inner chamber became a place for the artist and the new love of his life, Muna, to spend time together. Called ‘one of the world’s largest love letters,’ by one critic, it’s an environment that encourages exploration and interaction – perfect as we caught up at the start of a new tour and a new year.
Houseago’s space felt large until we visited Israeli artist Yael Bartana’s film ‘Inferno’ at Petzel Gallery, which was inspired by Sao Paulo’s vast new $300 church built by the controversial Universal Church of the Kingdom of God to replicate the ancient Solomon’s Temple. Bartana starts the piece with a procession of young people carrying flowers and fruit to inaugurate the sacred space; but within minutes, an unexplained explosion causes panic and the temple is turned to rubble, only to be resurrected as a tourist spot with its own western wall. With a seductive blend of beautiful cinematography and tongue-in-cheek kitsch, Inferno reminds us that a monument to human achievement can soon turn into an icon of defeat.
In a very different way, we witnessed the cyclical nature of history at our next stop, Clinton & Koenig’s installation of furniture and design from 80s icons the Memphis Group. Hugely influential and now highly sought after, Memphis design dared to combine laminates and plastics with traditional natural materials like wood and marble in colorful pieces resembling what some have referred to as ‘cartoon versions of furniture.’ For our group, it turned out to be a litmus test of aesthetic discernment, with some loving and some loathing the taste-challenging designs.
Design transformed the exhibition space at our next stop, Diana Thater’s latest installation at David Zwirner Gallery, where blue light transfused the white cube gallery, the better to showcase Thater’s video of the nocturnal dung beetle. On a screen above a huge white box that dominated the main gallery, video of dung beetles doing their eco-friendly clean-up business caused us to look up, just as they do to navigate by the stars of the Milky Way. Inspired by recent research on the beetles’ amazing abilities and James Turrell’s sky artworks that showcase the heavens through roof openings, Thater connects the celestial and the earthly in an homage to an under appreciated insect.
If Thater awakened our wonder at nature, Yancey Richardson Gallery’s selection of photos from Brazilian photographer Sebastiao Salgado’s ‘Genesis’ series sealed the deal. For over a decade, Salgado has travelled the world documenting landscapes untouched by human development and people groups who live as they have for centuries if not millennia. If we saw a love letter directed at an individual at our first stop, we witnessed a ‘love letter to the planet’ (in Salgado’s own words) at the end of the tour. From stunning views of the Brooks Range in Alaska, where partly show-covered ridges resemble zebra stripes, to actual zebra herds in Botswana, Salgado lets us know that nature endures, despite man’s incursions. A striking portrait of a fur-bedecked young Nenet woman in Siberia and astounding headdresses worn by performers in Papua New Guineau speak of the richness of human creativity around the world, concluding our Chelsea visit on an uplifting and inspiring note.