The cavernous concrete space at SculptureCenter is, at first glance, an odd place to stage an exhibition about the intimacies of domestic life. But it works, perhaps because the architecture makes the art feel unfamiliar. “Better Homes” presents the work of 16 artists asking questions about our lives at home. The title is ironic, but also optimistic. The show seeks to bring to view failed promises of commercial modernity at the same time as it guides viewers towards what could be really better.
LaToya Ruby Frazier (whose solo show at the Brooklyn Museum is up until August 11th) has a large photograph in the back room of the main floor that suits as a nice emblem for the show as a whole. An older woman in a nightgown stands lighting a cigarette in the center of her living room, while porcelain dolls line the walls around her. Manufactured niceties suffocate the lived interior experience. The woman, who in other contexts could be called maternal, is hollowed out by the empty ideal children in the room, and very literally by the deadly refreshment of the cigarette. There is a thin barrier, or none at all, the picture argues, between the interiors of our homes and the interiors of our bodies.
I found strange resonance between this Frazier piece and a video on the lower floor, KwieKulik’s “Activities with Dobromierz” (2008). It is a slideshow with pictures of a baby who looks like a porcelain doll (thus the Frazier connection), staged in various household still lifes. Around the corner from this is the work I spent the longest time looking at, Tamar Guimarães’ video “Canoas” (2010). The presentation of these videos is done in catacomb-like basement arches, intensifying the industrial contrast, but creating a kind of intimacy too. Guimarães’ video captures an opulent Brazilian house party. Intellectuals discuss a perceived cultural “vortex of class and race” over champagne, yet the film ends with the hired service carrying dirty dishes around the same house pool that the owners had been swimming in when the film began. “Better” homes, but for whom?
Then there is sperm. Yes, on the main floor, in a corner to themselves, are two very recognizable images of semen, magnified to creature-like proportion. The title of the works, I found when googling, comes from an interlude on Beyoncé’s 2003 Dangerously In Love album. “Yesterday I tried to paint you,” Beyoncé speaks, “but the colors weren’t enough. Your love goes beyond what I can say.” Carissa Rodriguez’s “Yesterday I Tried to Paint You” (2012) tries to represent that “beyond.” Bodies, and the fluids running through them, are affective interiors beyond words, beyond colors, beyond commodified domestic life. But these prints, of the material output of male-sexed passion, are grey, flat—the closest thing in the show to the concrete interior of the space. Rodriguez’s work doesn’t “represent” the beyond of human feeling as much as it emphasizes the distance between representing “good lives” and actually making life good.
SculptureCenter requires a jaunt from wherever else you are in the city to the “outer” (though more and more “inner”) ‘hood of Long Island City in Queens. But like the un-domestic interior of the building, the location situates viewers awry from the normal, the common, the habitual. You have to really get out of the home, the show commands, to see what is really in it.
- SculptureCenter – Jonathas de Andrade, Neïl Beloufa, Keith Edmier, and more – “Better Homes” April 22 – July 22, 2013. Thurs-Mon 11am-6pm [Entry: $5]
Article by Chris Robinson