Homeward bound: in New York, artists’ musings on domestic dwellings take a dark turn

Homeward bound: in New York, artists’ musings on domestic dwellings take a dark turn

A cell on death row. A tattered, torn tent in a desert. The hollow of a tree. A shed with a tin roof. A colonial villa in Havana. A modernist, glass-encased apartment in the Hollywood Hills. A shoe-box on Main Street. The back of a van. What do these places have in common?

They are all places someone calls home. They are also all depicted by 19 artists, mostly photographic, at New York gallery Yancey Richardson, ‘Notions of Home’, where they sit in stark juxtaposition. Exploring the architectural, conceptual, historical, socio-political and aesthetic aspects of ‘home’ around the world, (via artists such as John Baldessari, Mark Ruwedel, Jitka Hanzlova and Larry Sultan) the works are united mostly by their lack of homeliness in the traditional sense: there’s nothing cosy about these dwellings.

Vivid Entertainment #2, 2003, by Larry Sultan. © The artist. Courtesy of the Estate of Larry Sultan, and Casemore Kirkeby

Though taken for different purposes, seen side by side, and mostly uninhabited, the political overtures are obvious. But what rattles the viewer on a subliminal level is the progression from the late 20th century towards a less stable (both physically, and psychologically) notion of home today, not only for the refugee or the migrant, but for anyone, anywhere. In fact, the most comforting image in the exhibition might be Amy Elkins’ twee illustration of a prisoners’ cell on death row – his home of 13 years.

The oldest works in the show is a pair of prints by American architectural photographer, Julius Shulman, from 1960, one of them his iconic Case Study #22, of Pierre Koenig’s Stahl House, two elegantly dressed women perched in a glass box overlooking Los Angeles. The photograph was the epitome of aspirational photography, a new era of showing off and luxury living. Looking at them now, they look too constructed, too fake to be a ‘real home’.

In sharp contrast, fast forward 55 years and you get Ruwedel’s dystopian black and white vision of Californian in Pacific Palisades, a blank exterior where a sign that emphatically asserts ‘HOME’, has the opposite affect, the blank expression of suburban sameness.

What ‘Notions of Home’ gives us are the structures, furniture and décor that are referred to as homes, but of course, what really makes a home a home is something far less tangible – and more troubling.

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