Any art exhibit that includes a parody video of a woman in a kitchen explaining how to make weapons out of tropical fruit deserves your attention.
Home – So Different, So Appealing takes it’s title and inspiration from an earlier art installation by British iconic pop artist Richard Hamilton who in 1956 took part in an exhibit that sought to foresee the future. Hamilton made a collage with a scantily clad bodybuilder in a modern home asking the question: “Just what was it that made yesterday’s homes so different, so appealing?”
Just as Hamilton’s art pulled ideas from mainstream magazines and modern technology of its time so the current exhibit takes the maelstrom of contemporary events and the last few decades of history to examine the concept of the home as a person’s castle.
The one hundred works from thirty-nine artists are taken from Latin American countries in North and South America, and the subtext is glaringly political.
The American Dream is turned upside down and in one instance cut in half vertically. Many of the artists on display come from countries that were torn apart by American intelligence agencies disrupting their governments and leading to suppression of human rights and even death squads.
The kitchen video from Jessica Kairé, “Asies la vida en el tropico,” is itself a tribute to a mid-1970s performance piece known as “Semiotics of the Kitchen” by Martha Rosler. Instead Kairé subverts the housewife role and makes nunchucks from plantain leaves and a mace from a hardened yucca plant.
One of the most striking pieces and taking up most of the space of an entire gallery is Daniel J. Martinez’s “The House America Built.” The piece is a life-size recreation of Unabomber Ted Kaczynski’s rural shack but painted in Martha Stuart colors. His inspiration was the fact that both Kaczynski and Stewart, at the time, were both federally incarcerated.
Part of the charm of this exhibit is the way it alternates between video and headphone installations along with paintings and conceptual pieces.
One video from 1974 shows artist Gordon Matta-Clark cutting a two-story home in two vertically with a chainsaw. The vid documents the difficultly in raising the house with lifts to enable him to proceed with his mechanical mayhem. This is a physical workout as well as a creation of art.
Other thematic groupings depict an ad-hoc structure that represents homeless housing decay complete with headphones that relay what is going on within the televisions located in the abode.
Perhaps the most striking imagery comes from giant (at least 20 feet tall) aluminum and plastic circles that welcome the viewers at the beginning of the exhibit and are divided into eleven distinct panels that emulate the landscape of West Bank pre-planned communities. These huge monstrosities are also laying sideways. It’s like you are walking past a centrifuge from the movie 2001.
Also disconcerting are multiple videos from Raphael Montañez Ortiz located throughout the exhibit that take familiar films, like the John Garfield starrer Body and Soul or a typical 1950s James Stewart western and reduce a single shot into an extended montage that repeats the same image over and over for several minutes with such fervent intensity that it literally twists your brain should you dare to stare at it too long.
The end result being that you have been complicit with the artist in subverting your own conception of what the end result should be.
You can easily spend a couple of hours wandering through the four main galleries along with the art that is mounted along the front façade.
One series of mounted frames are taken from magazine pages of high-end design periodicals only to paint in domestic servants (with no facial features) in acrylic paint within the borders.
As MFAH director Gary Tinterow stated at the beginning of the media preview: “No sentient being can walk through this exhibit and remain unchanged.”
“Home – So Different, So Appealing“ runs at The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston until January 21, 2018.