This exhibition takes its name from a 1956 collage by the British artist Richard Hamilton. Staged as cross between a domestic interior and showroom, the picture constructs a space crammed with Modernist furniture and an over-abundance of appliances. (Hanging over the TV, a comic book picture framed next to an ancestral portrait stakes this work’s historic claim as an icon of Pop art). The title came up, at first humorously in conversation with Beverly Semmes about how we might approach the opportunity testsite presents: for a curator (me) to invite an artist (her) to collaborate on a project with some site specificity inasmuch as it is largely located in a living room. Our subsequent decision to make eponymous Hamilton’s Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing? immediately provided a useful set of correspondences upon which to build, and now enter, this installation. Starting with collage.
Semmes is a sculptor, who has long used photography as a means of locating her forms as figures in space. Working with live models—friends and family actually—whom Semmes swathes entirely in the fabric costumes she has created especially for these shoots, so that they appear transformed into the objects of her art’s imagery of vessels. The collages in this exhibition are based on photographs edited from several shoots, and set aside in the studio, where she later cut them up and reassembled the parts. The figures are typically posed in a range of interior and outdoor settings. In this group, we encounter figures milling about in a garden, staked out in an abandoned squash court, stopped at a forest road, and crossing a lake in little boats that appear to float under psychic power. Indeed, the spooky to strange mood that always pervades Semmes’ photos is only heightened by the weird shifts in scale, odd juxtapositions, and more or less radical intrusions that collage was invented to create. The humor of cut-ups is present too: don’t overlook the watchful dogs that turn up enough to turn out to be ready-made plaster Labs. There’s something amusingly grotesque about the costumes as well, whether it’s the luridly bright colors or patterns (yes, that’s a dog montage print). Or, the bizarre effects of draperies, robes, skirts, hoods, capes, that are so excessive they suggest tails, trails, noodles, drawing, bolters, sculpture, landscape, and other renderings.
The photo-collages are hung in a running sequence, a ribbon that bands the house’s three public rooms—an entry, dining and living room—into a box. A box that contains further assemblage interventions: fragments of costumes are plopped and piled on the floor and furniture, which, in turn, appear to have been marshaled by Semmes into the total tableau. Two plaster dogs act as sentries. Whether we as viewers are entering illusory space, or the pictures have leaked into the room, there is a tension between thresholds here—an experience of the uncanny that makes today’s testsite so different, so appealing.
Institute of Contemporary Art
University of Pennsylvania
currently lives and works in New York. Semmes has been honored with numerous one-person exhibitions at institutions around the world, including the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C., the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, The Whitney Museum of Art at Philip Morris, New York, the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin and the Kemper Museum for Contemporary Art and Design, Kansas City. Her work can be found in many prestigious museum collections, such as the Albright Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York, Museum voor Moderne Kunst, Arnhem, The Netherlands, Museum of Contemporary Art, Miami, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C., and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.
Ingrid Schaffner is Senior Curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA), University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, where her exhibition The Puppet Show is currently on view. Organized with Carin Kuoni, this group show looks at the imagery of puppets in contemporary art and includes works by Anne Chu, Nathalie Djurberg, Mike Kelley, William Kentridge, Bruce Nauman, Kiki Smith, Kara Walker, among others. (The show tours to the Museum of Contemporary Art, Houston.) Past exhibitions at ICA include: Karen Kilimnik (April 2007); Accumulated Vision, Barry Le Va (January 2005); The Big Nothing (with Bennett Simpson and Tanya Leighton, Summer 2004) Sarah McEneaney (January 2004); Trials and Turbulence: Pepón Osorio, an artist’s residence at DHS (with Johanna Plummer, Fall 2004); Polly Apfelbaum (with Claudia Gould, Spring 2003); The Photogenic: Photography through its metaphors in contemporary art (Spring 2002) and Richard Tuttle, In Parts, 1998-2001 (January 2001).
Working independently, she is the curator of: Jess: To and From the Printed Page, with Independent Curators International (traveling from 2007-2009); Gloria: Another Look at Feminist Art of the 1970s at White Columns, New York (with Catherine Morris, traveled 2002-2003); About the Bayberry Bush at The Parrish Art Museum, Southampton, New York, an exhibition and publication devoted to new perspectives by contemporary artists on an American Impressionist painting (with Melissa Feldman, summer 2001); Hannelore Baron: Works 1967-1987, with the Smithsonian Institution's Travelling Exhibition Service (traveled 2001-2002); Pictures, Patents, Monkeys, More…on collecting, with Independent Curators International, New York (traveled 2001-2002); Secret Victorians, an exhibition of contemporary art illuminated by aspects of 19th-century culture with the Hayward Gallery National Touring Service, London, (with Melissa Feldman, traveled 1999 to 2001).
Her exhibition Deep Storage, with Siemens Kulturprogramm for the Haus der Kunst, Munich, traveled to Berlin and Dusseldorf before coming to P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center in New York (summer 1998) and the Henry Art Gallery in Seattle (Fall 1998). Featuring work by fifty artists (including Beuys, Duchamp, Lawler, Kilimnik, Rauschenberg, Rhoades, Warhol) and manuscript material from the Aby Warburg Institute, London, this exhibition explored storage and archiving as imagery, issues and metaphors within contemporary art (catalogue Prestel). She is also the curator of Julien Levy: Portrait of an Art Gallery, an exhibition about the New York dealer and collector who championed experimental photography and film, and whose gallery presented a first American exhibition of Surrealism in 1932 (with The Equitable Gallery, New York, Fall 1998; catalogue The MIT Press). She was part of the curatorial team for Pop Surrealism at The Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art. Her interest in Surrealism stems from The Return of the Cadavre Exquis, an exhibition she initiated with The Drawing Center, New York, that involved contemporary artists in the historic movement's favorite collaborative drawing game Exquisite Corpse (traveled 1993-95). Other exhibitions exploring alternative and hybrid art histories include The Cultured Tourist, (with Leslie Tonkonow, at Tonkonow Artwork + Projects, New York); Richard Artschwager: Photo/Works 1945-96 (Julie Saul Gallery, New York, 1996); Chocolate! (with Carin Kuoni, Swiss Institute, New York, 1995).
Schaffner has written extensively on modern and contemporary art, as a former critic for Art Forum, and as contributor to Art Forum, Arts, Frieze, Art on Paper, and Parkett magazines, as well as many catalog publications. With essays on Richard Artschwager, Marlene Dumas, Arturo Herrera, Yoshitomo Nara, Isamu Noguchi, among others. Her book Salvador Dalí's Dream of Venus: The Surrealist Funhouse at the 1939 World's Fair was published by Princeton Architectural Press. For "The Essentials" series of art books by Abrams, she has contributed titles on Cornell, Van Gogh, Matisse, Picasso, Man Ray, and Warhol. She co-edits a quarterly publication called Pink.