The flashiest piece in the show has to be Imperial Nail Salon [my parents’ living room], the re-created living room cum nail salon that Dzine created to capture the memory of his childhood home in Chicago’s Humboldt Park, where his mother made a living as a manicurist. As a conceptual work, it exemplifies how so much contemporary art is archly, aggressively autobiographical; here, we are led to conclude that it is his mother’s fanciful approach to extreme nails which influenced the sequined and bedazzled “cruisemobiles” that have made him such a central figure at the last few Art Basel Miami fairs. (During certain Saturdays of the exhibition’s run, real nail technicians have provided service at the space—just one of the clever accompanying programs MCA has organized to embellish the show.)
Quiltmaker Abigail Anne Newbold’s remarkable construction Making Home literally divides work and home. Neatly laid out like a diorama, it depicts both her homespun-style living space and her quilt-making workshop, offering a look at a work-in-progress. Both evince a kind of Spartan industriousness: It is no coincidence that the pattern of the quilt under construction is “Building Blocks.”
Rachel Whiteread’s Untitled floor [Thirty-six]—a cast-aluminum floor piece—illustrates one of the biggest challenges facing those who experience much conceptual work. The observer doesn’t know what to make of it until he learns that it’s a casting of floor tiles from a German synagogue decimated during World War II. It is all valid enough, but it really raises the issue of what it is worth if it requires accompanying text to explain it.
Contrast that with Do Ho Suh’s beautiful and haunting Wieldandstr. 18, 12159 Berlin, which delineates in diaphanous green fabric stretched on a wire frame an apartment where the artist once lived in Berlin. While knowing that fact helps you to identify it, even without that knowledge it is easy to intuit that this is the re-creation of a real space. But its presentation offers layers of meaning, both obvious and subtle. It is about the wandering life of the nomad, the ironic impermanence of the built environment, and the peculiar conundrum of installation art itself, which is so often site-specific—yet here, this is a “place” that is easily collapsed and re-erected in another venue. It is a fitting centerpiece to a rich, provocative show.