Posted by Michelle Y. Hyun on 7/11/09
A curious amassing of objects occupies a storefront window near 22nd and Guerrero Streets in San Francisco. Within, a green glass lamp fixture, a random light bulb, colorful Pez candy dispensers, upside down hand painted pottery, and household objects are periodically shifted and rotated in and out, serving as guest stars to an ever-present painting of an orange tiger, standing against a bright red and blue background. The painting remains propped up against the right wall and the tiger’s green eyes seem to watch over the entire scene. And then there is much more—a small drawing on canvas of a Victorian house stood up against the glass window, a ceramic knick knack of white, blue, violet glazed dolphins which appear to twist and leap from the base, and a shower soap dish still affixed to its pink bathroom tile corner.
Each object seems to have been designated a specific place in relation to its companions. They sit, lie, and stand, sometimes tightly against one another or in relative distance from the other, atop a grid of decorative, beige tiles. These peculiar pieces are shifted and moved across the grid subtly over time, almost imperceptibly. Sometimes, they disappear and reappear. This artful composition of objects and artworks, if not bizarre enough already, is displayed against a chaotic background of even more knick knacks, an empty desk piled with papers, and what appears to be a vacant office and storage closet. The seeming disorganization recalls junk, while the objects in front seem precious in the window. The true mystery seems to lie in the unknown intent behind this arrangement.
Who is this arranger of objects? Is he/she an artist?
The storefront window has served as a source of curiosity and wonder for over a decade. As a much discussed piece of visual culture in San Francisco, the window’s arrangement of objects and their theater of movement have become installation and performance art in the post-medium condition. Intrigue has led to inspiration, resulting in a video and an exhibition by artist Margaret Tedesco, who used the window display as source material.
A chance meeting with the slightly reclusive owner (who wished to remain anonymous) took place one recent Friday afternoon. The owner reluctantly answered questions and shared stories of Pez dispensers left as offerings on his doorstep, similar inquiries by passersby and neighbors, as well as the history behind the objects. Many of the household objects were found left behind in houses needing restoration. Some of the objects have a personal significance. The aforementioned painting is actually a depiction of the eponymous animal of the ancient Chinese ointment, Tiger Balm; it was a present from a friend. In the window, a sign reads “This department has worked ______ days without a lost time accident,” which came from a warship worked on by the owner’s father during the Second World War. A mild case of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is offered as an explanation for why the owner chooses to display these particular objects and arrange them as they are. And as to whether or not the owner preferred this information remain undisclosed to the public, the owner stated that, despite the need for anonymity, it would be favorable to demystify the window display. Yet, in announcing this intention and retaining his anonymity, this demystification now works in reverse. It is incomplete, and perhaps even erroneous. Perhaps these explanations and masked nature of identity is part of the performance – disinformation to develop the piece further. Or perhaps we’ve all seen too many installations, naively and mysteriously, but intentionally composed into “art”? Though, diminishing one’s curious wonder and joy in seeing this window display was never the intention of this article. Rather, it was to call attention to this fixture of San Francisco visual culture and adding more information to complicate its speculation.
- Michelle Y. Hyun
Image: Margaret Tedesco, 22nd Street storefront (detail) 2009. (Courtesy of the artist)