Taking inspiration from Emily Dickenson’s poem of the same name, “The House Without the Door” considers the idea of home as emotionally complicated rather than safe, secure and comforting. Eighteen artists including Mamma Andersson, Louise Bourgeois, Philip-Lorca di Corcia, Luc Tuymans, and Rachel Whiteread use painting, sculpture, installation, and photography to examine the multiple meanings of home with the understanding that home is not only where the heart is, or where comfort and familiarity are sought, but also the place where our deepest secrets and darkest demons may reside.
Charles LeDray’s miniature Bone Rocker (1995) conjures questions of comfort in life and death as it sits beneath a vitrine on a pedestal in the middle of a sparsely installed gallery. Francis Alÿs’s 1994 simple bedroom diptych, Déjà Vu unsettles viewers when one 5” x 6” inch canvas is encountered in one gallery with a slightly different color palette than the companion canvas encountered in another. David Altmejd’s large-scale sculpture of plaster, wood, foam, and burlap disrupts commonly held conceptions of interior and exterior space, while Robert Gober’s kitchen sink hangs from a wall unceremoniously, completely stripped of its functional context.
Mona Hatoum’s installation Home (1999) further explores the complexity of the domicile. A butcher-block table on casters topped with a scattering of cooking and baking implements (a garlic press, whisk, sifter, etc.) are rigged with crocodile clips and light bulbs, causing them to pulse, hum, and glow rhythmically mirroring the pace of the breath. A makeshift barrier of steel cables attached to the wall in front of the table adds to a sense of alienation and disease and causes one to question our role and place within domestic space.
Notions of home are also examined though the activity that takes place within. Jeff Wall’s Rear, 304 E. 35th Ave., May 20, 1997, 1.14 & 1.17 p.m (1997) is a bleak montage of two silver gelatin prints of a junkie waiting at the door of a ramshackle building. On the porch overhead, black garbage bags and detritus are visible. A small inset photo on the right shows a close-up of the woman’s hand and the hole in the door where drugs and money are exchanged, alluding to the indiscretions that occur on the other side of the house’s door.
In contrast, Maureen Gallace’s Summer House/Dunes (2009) presents an idyllic country house nestled in a quaint New England landscape. Its solitary place on the wall and its modest 9’’ x 12” size seem to underscore the potential disturbance that may lurk behind the tranquility. Gallace’s visible brush strokes in a dark and yellowed green give the grass, trees and shrubs surrounding the putty gray country house an air of abstraction and fantasy, yet a closer look at this scene is jarring: Gallace’s house does not have a door, but only a small window in what appears to be the attic.
The last work in the exhibition might encourage the longest pause, if a viewer notices its presence. Adel Abdessemed’s Exit (2007) is a simple yellow neon sign hanging above the exit/entrance of the gallery’s 525 W. 19th street reception area. The text “exil” translates from French to mean “exile,” and illuminates the artist’s experience of emigrating from his native Algeria to France when home began to assume a more political and traumatic place in his life. For Abdessemed, Emily Dickenson, and many of us, home is a tenuous place, one filled with love, comfort, hope, and despair. To reconcile the complexity of domesticity – its confinement, liberation, disruption, and reassurance – a nonchalant encounter is not sufficient; one must wrestle and linger with all of its contradictions.
~Lee Ann Norman
Images: Charles LeDray, Bone Rocker (1995); Mona Hatoum, Home (1999) Photos by Jason Mandella. © 2011 the artists, courtesy of David Zwirner, New York.