ewsletter / nr. 1 / 13.01.2001

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Zur Ausstellung some things matter von Charles Wiesen
in der Galerie homeroom

some things matter von Charles Wiesen in homeroom
Interview mit Courtenay Smith über die Ausstellung
Fotos der Installation
Pressetext zur Ausstellung


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vom 17.11.2000 bis 19.01.2001

Westendstraße 30
80339 München
freitags 14-18 und tel. Vereinbarung
+49 89 167098

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some things matter
Charles Wiesen

homeroom, Munich, Germany
17 November 2000 - 19 January 2001

An interview with owner/curator Courtenay Smith
by Hannes Gamper and Karl-Heinz Einberger

HG: Courtenay, what were your expectations when you offered Charles Wiesen the opportunity to work in your exhibition space, which is at the same time your living space?

CS: It's a good question, and a difficult one to answer, because I knew Charles first as an artist who made particular objects. Creating contexts is a somewhat newer aspect of his work, which he first explored, as I see it, in A Gallery/Lobby Exhibit at the College of DuPage in Chicago, Illinois. I was trying to imagine what kind of context he would create at homeroom, in light of the individual objects that he had made before. From the start, however, I wanted the space and the show to be very open-ended for him. So in a sense, what I expected was very little. My expectations were low because I wanted him to feel free to propose something that he wouldn't be able to do in another space.

Having said that, I must also say that because homeroom is in an apartment, Charles did have to adhere to the house rules, in terms of how the space is treated, just like all the other tenants. Naturally these rules, such as no loud noise and no alterations to the floors or walls, differ somewhat from those of, say, a commercial gallery or storefront.

Additionally, the areas of the apartment that were available for him to use became a restriction. When I first invited him to do a project, I didn't really foresee a problem with him using the entire apartment. However, after going through a couple of exhibitions, I realized that I did not want visitors perusing art in my private space, that is, my bedroom. It's a very nineteenth-century-and bourgeois-notion of how space should be used, but one that I adhere to: that private space and work space should be separate.

Through a process of trial and error I have learned that conventional definitions of what a home is come to bear, in some ways, on the shows that happen in this home/gallery. For example, my boyfriend and I have an art collection that hangs in our hallway, which we believe is as important as the show that is on display in homeroom. As this relates to Charles' project, I asked that he not hang anything over these pieces (as he described in an initial proposal), since I wouldn't insert other artists' works into his exhibition.

In theory, I don't have a problem with an artist's work flowing out of homeroom into other rooms in the apartment-except the bedroom, of course-but because of the aforementioned issues, both parties will always have to discuss and agree upon what exactly that means. If it means, for example, the temporary removal of certain art works in our collection, then perhaps I would be agreeable to it.

Through discussions about these kinds of issues, Charles and I refined both of our expectations. In the end, we reached a compromise: that Charles would produce a piece specific to homeroom proper. Had he wanted to bring certain elements of this installation out into the dining room, however, I would not have had a problem with that.

KH: In the piece Charles has produced, he has taken both parts of your name, "home" and "room," literally. That is, he doesn't regard the space as only an opportunity to exhibit. Rather, his work extends out of it in such a way, I think, that his show begins already at the door of your apartment.

CS: Yes, but I also think that every show I do begins at the door of my apartment because visitors are entering an apartment and not a conventional "gallery space." Of course, people's expectations change with the conventions of any space. Therefore, what is interesting to me is the behaviour of visitors when they are in homeroom. Because I am essentially greeting them at the door like a host, their visit begins with a casual conversation. Sometimes people stay and just hang out or read books, like you might do in someone's home. Charles plays off this conventional expectation of a "home" as well, only in the opposite direction by producing objects that could never function in one.

KH: Talking about the installation in particular, I noticed that the "paintings" Charles made for it have individual titles and are listed separately on the checklist. When I first entered the show, I mentally took one of the paintings with me and placed it in my own collection. I imagined how it might interact with the other paintings in my room. How do you view the paintings and what do you think about them in particluar?

CS: First, I don't think of them as just "paintings." I believe they exist somewhere between painting and sculpture, as the name of one of them, Painting or Sculpture (2000), implies. The reason that they are listed separately on the checklist is because they refer to one of Charles' earlier works, a framed eight by ten inch piece of aluminium, with protruding screwhooks on each side, that can be hung on the wall if desired. The questions prompted by that piece are the same as here: should these "paintings" be held in the hand, left on the floor, used as trays, leaned against the wall, or hung up like pictures? If used as pictures, are they landscapes or portraits?

Yet although the paintings are independent entities, Charles has placed them into this specific installation. So they are also part of a set. This I find interesting, especially as the gesture relates to the manner in which furniture is sold in many stores in the States. You can always buy a complete set of furniture, in almost any style, that will establish your "home" as such: a couch, a chair, a table, a lamp, and, possibly, a picture.

The thing I find interesting about Charles' paintings is that they make you look at all framed pictures in a structural way. We tend to view pictures in frames as self-contained fantasies, "other" worlds that we look into. The frame is what separates us from the action inside them. Accordingly, framed pictures or paintings are safe, in that they are at a distance from us, both physically and mentally. However, something different happens when you hang one of Charles' paintings next to a framed one. Because his paintings have no frames, the surface color is the "image" that confronts you; it is in your space. The reason it is in your space is because it is laying on a thick sheet of pressboard. The surface is a real object with three dimensions, not an image inside. Therefore, we are forced to think about what a painting is supposed to be and what the purpose of a frame is.

Of course, what I have just described comes out of relatively recent art history, specifically Brian O'Doherty's discussion of Impressionsim in Inside the White Cube: The Ideology of the Gallery Space (1986). But since we tend to forget recent history, it is nice to have Charles' paintings around to prompt us into looking at old problems again.

KH: Beyond the fact that the "paintings" exist between surface and object and ask questions in this regard, they also call painting, as such, into question. The same also happens with the "furniture" Charles has made, which isn't quite furniture but addresses aspects of it.

CS: The furniture Charles has produced here seems, to me, to be in dialogue with modernist design. His pieces are clean, sleek, geometric-something Mies van der Rohe would have liked. However, they are not something that van der Rohe would have produced, since the cultural context surrounding them is quite different. We have to remember that things "out there" in our culture inform art and vice versa. Just as there is a renewed interest-particularly in the design community and the purchasing departments of stores like Target-in classic modernism, so it is that these elements crop up in Charles' work. We need to remember, too, that modernism intended to be, but never made it as, a popular style-in terms of taste or economics-but today it is being sold successfully as such. I am not sure that consumers always realize what they are getting!

Charles and I also view his installation as a prototype that, in this case, has been tailored to my particular space. For example, the dimensions of the "chairs" are proportional to chairs I own and use and which are here throughout the year. The colors of the furniture and paintings refer to colors prevalent in my apartment. This said, Charles would like to work with a collector/consumer who is interested in the concept and for whom the idea could be adapted, according to their particular wants or needs.

HG: In this way, the piece is individualized over and over again, so the specific reaction to an individual situation is an essential aspect of it, I think.

CS: Yes, and in that way I see it very much related to an Ikea product that has a certain "look." It's a prototype for what you could have with endless possibilities for rearrangement and reuse. Charles' willingness to work with collectors is evidenced in a recent project he did in Chicago called Compose (2000), in which he worked directly with a couple to produce an installation that was both pleasing to them and with which he was intellectually satisfied. In that project there was no distinction between "a home is a home" and "a home is a gallery." At homeroom, however, he and I had to move consciously back and forth between these two poles. This opened the door for work that is perhaps more propositional. How does art transform a piece of architecture? Which comes first? Can a chair be a sculpture?

KH: Interestingly enough, the edges of his "furniture" are open, which relates to his paintings and their tendency to go beyond the area they occupy. The furniture addresses the space as a whole, which reminds me of a show I saw in Vienna this spring called The Unprivate House. There, issues of publicity in private spaces were discussed, too.

CS: That show and the essays in its accompanying catalogue were exactly in my head in relation to this show and homeroom in general. I think The Unprivate House brings up issues that have very much to do with subjective definitions of private and personal space. For me, I absolutely must retain at least one area of this home/gallery that is just for me. As I have already said, this is a rather nineteenth-century concept-one that developed with the rise of middle class and their desire for leisure time, making work no longer associated with, or situated in, the home. I think it has become very hip now to go back to a more medieval model of living, of compressed domestic and work space. It seems that there is pressure, particularly in architecture, to bring both spaces back together again-to essentially live your work, to work your lifestyle. It is not an idea that I particularly agree with, if partly because I am not able to adhere to it on a personal level. But the problems it poses shape my understanding of homeroom and force me to question where my beliefs come from and what they might produce. I ask artists to do the same when they work here. The collaboration has to go back and forth between these areas and issues and with Charles it has, in very clear and strong ways.

KH: It is interesting that you work on this overlap of private and public, on the shifting nature of the two realms. I think it's remarkable in running your space the way you do, that you put yourself in the middle of the discussion and the process. This is where the content really lies. In The Unprivate House, the notion of public space in private houses was not really resolved or addressed in very different ways.

CS: I agree with that. I found that many of the houses in that show came off as typically modern design concepts, in the sense that they are very beautiful singular objects. But do they really work? Would you want to live in them? Did the person who lived in Mies van der Rohe's Farnsworth House, whose glass walls offer small comfort in the face a Midwestern winter, really think it was worth it? That house, though privately owned, is now used as a museum for most of the year. I think there is still more questioning that needs to happen with regard to exhibitions like The Unprivate House, but I find the re-presentation of modern ideas as something brand new quite interesting. It's very commercial.

KH: What comes into play now is practice of life, I think. The issues are pushed much more towards the compexity of our lives. It has become very clear that your venture is part of this requestioning. I think it's worth mentioning that you do not position yourself apart from the discussion but are in the discussion. Having seen this, I can understand homeroom much better.

HG: Another interesting aspect, which is addressed in the show is its temporal quality, that it takes on characteristics of an event. That comes from the fact that the artist integrates the apartment into the piece. How do you view this, and how do you deal with this aspect?

CS: I believe every exhibition is an "event," in the sense that it is only in one space at one time for a certain period of time. Having said that, the difference I see between Charles' show at homeroom and one in an institution is that homeroom served as his studio-first in virtual, or conceptual, form through e-mails and photographs, then in literal form when he came to Munich to install his work. All of his gestures, decisions, and edits were made outside of his private studio in Chicago and in direct relation to this space.

So, what happens when the show is over and everything is taken down? What happens to these particular objects? Well, there are several possibilities. The "furniture" could be sold in pieces and put into someone else's context, where it would take on characteristics of the new home/room/place, just as artworks in traveling exhibitons do-they migrate and change. The show could also be thrown away or given away. Another option is to fold everything up and display it as a stack or autonomous sculpture. An ideal situation would be that the installation is rethought and reconfigured for another person. The next person's place would be Charles' studio, a place to migrate to.


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Weitere Fotos der Installation auf der Halde

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some things matter
Charles Wiesen

17 November 2000 - 19 January 2001

This is the first Munich exhibition of the work of Chicago-based sculptor Charles Wiesen. Taking the name of homeroom literally, Wiesen has built a suite of furniture appropriate to a room in a home: a couch, a coffee table, two chairs, two sidetables, a wastepaper basket, and three wall pictures. The ensemble resembles a conventional living room, but none of its components are functional.

Each gray-and-white chipboard unit lacks the part that would render it useful as typical furniture. The couch has no cushions, only a frame. The tables have no tops, only bases. The trash basket has no bottom. Each unit is merely a dopplegänger held together by hinges that allow it to be folded against the wall, left in a stack on the ground, or packed up like a trade-show exhibit. Where furniture ends and sculpture and architecture begin is precisely the question posed by Wiesen's suite.

The role of design is essential to the discussion, since Wiesen's pieces, with their clean lines and monochrome colors, refer directly to the pure designs of modernist pioneers such as Marcel Breuer, Gerrit Rietveld, or Mies van der Rohe. Yet because Wiesen's ensemble is a postmodern product of the 21st century, it is more likely to be mistaken for a hip, new furniture line or "lifestyle" accessory-of the sort on view in tasteful stores like Modernica in New York City or Magazin in Munich and in catalogues like Ikea or Room-than a Utopian mandate.

In both the worlds of art and commerce, classic modernism is no longer a viable belief system but a style to be appropriated and explored. For Wiesen, whose day job happens to be that of a scenic painter and carpenter, retro styling provides an opportunity to restate questions that were as important half a century ago as they are today: What is living? What is a room? What is a room for living?

homeroom opened in Munich on September 8, 2000, as a project space for group shows and solo projects of contemporary American and European artists. It is located on the first floor of Westendstrasse 30 (corner of Westendstrasse and Holzapfelstrasse in the Westend). Gallery hours are Fridays, from 2:00 until 6:00, and by appointment. For further information, please contact Courtenay Smith at (89) 16 70 98.