Afterglow

By GREG COOK  |  October 27, 2008
Redl3.jpg
FADE: Redl uses bad feng shui to his
advantage.
The dollhouses filled up shelves in her East London studio. At the MFA, collaged drawings dating back to 2004 explain how she began thinking of making something with them. She cut out magazine photos of houses and pasted them into rings and stacks. When Whiteread was invited to show in Naples last year, she created her first version of Place (Village) with some 60 dollhouses. She was thinking of Pompeii and the Italian Nativity scenes called presepi. The arrangement also grew out of her 2005 installation Embankment, which filled a giant hall at London’s Tate Modern with mountains built from 14,000 stacked polyethylene casts of packing boxes.

Whiteread’s work usually focuses on domestic interiors. Here, we peek in through the dollhouse doors and windows and glimpse little rooms with odd wallpaper, little fireplaces, and stairs, but the homes are closed to us. It’s like walking down streets at night and peering through windows into lit rooms.

Like much of Whiteread’s work, Place (Village) feels melancholy. It reminds me of the title of Mike Kelley’s 1987 crazy quilt of second-hand dolls and afghans: More Love Hours Than Can Ever Be Repaid. It’s a village of hopes and dream(house)s, where fantasies of love and life and family were played out by dozens of little girls. Now it’s a silent, abandoned place. And you wonder how real life played out for these invisible girls as they put away their childhood things.

Emerson College’s Huret and Spector Gallery has its own light installation with Austrian artist Erwin Redl’s Fade. The gallery is an awkward chopped-up narrow space divided into two floors that often doesn’t flatter art. But Redl uses this lousy feng shui to his advantage by filling the walls with a grid of thousands of red LED lights that dramatize the gallery’s odd shapes. It feels like walking into some scene from Tron.

The exhibit was organized by Joe Ketner, his first here since joining the college over the summer. He arrives from the Milwaukee Art Museum, where he was chief curator, and, previously, Brandeis University’s Rose Art Museum, where he was director.

Like Whiteread’s work, Redl’s installation proposes a kinder, gentler Minimalism in its use of the grid, its simple industrial material, its attention to the space of the room and your position in it. The lines of bulbs and their reflections on the polished floor and glass stairway railing sweep your eyes across the room and up the walls. Then you lose track. As you refocus, the lights seem — it’s an optical illusion — to blink and pulse. If you stay for a while, you notice that the lights cycle from bright to dim, so that a slow tide of light to dark washes back and forth across the gallery, making sections look like dark caves, or as if they glowed with hot embers. The installation is kind of a sweet nothing, but it’s just the place to bliss out.

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