Imagine a vintage ’50s—’60s-style model home pared down to its essentials; then travel back to a time when residences were designed according to theme-based suites (say a Renaissance palace); and finally, fill the rooms with a contemporary sampling of installations. The result is a thumbnail description of “Model Home,” a visual highlight of Baltimore’s summer arts festival.
Picking up on current interest in design, architecture and juvenalia, “Model Home” cleverly plays off the meaning of model as representative or superior. Model can describe the project’s lively, polyrhythmic array of styles from the ’70s to present day. It can qualify the partnership between M & T Bank, Craig Carbrey, Wayne Norbeck, John Shorb, and Glenn Shrum, who designed the air-conditioned, plywood, steel scaffold, and Tyvek paper structure, the artists, and curator Gary Kachadourian. It can underscore the building’s effective application of these cheap and handy materials, and those used to create the art. And it points out the obvious. None of the rooms are functional in a real world sense just as a model home is meant only to whet the appetite and stimulate the imagination of the potential buyer.
Bifurcated by a semi-enclosed patio, “Model Home” occupied a 130 by 14 foot plot on a slopping median strip. Displaying a rough and ready assemblage approach heavy on recycling and appropriation, it framed ideas of the temporal and the permanent, and the manufactured and the natural in unexpected ways. The Tyvek paper provided an ambient rustle as the wind penetrated its translucent surface, and openings in the paper walls allowed trees to enter this artificial construct. Inside, the east and west wings contrasted a spare, Minimalist aesthetic and a neo-punk, graffiti dynamic that made a walk-through evoke a tour of an historic house, but in a schizoid, alternate universe.
Starting with the front porch, Tabatha Tucker countered vistas of the outdoors with an Astroturf-covered, curvilinear staircase that evoked a terraced hillside. In his IKEA-esque installation, Brian Randolph fashioned stand-ins for household furnishings out of found objects, as he deftly played with their original function and color and led the eye around a series of mini-events such as a large, sprawling indoor plant made from a flourish of preservative tubes for flowers.
More restrained in palette was Dan Steinhilber’s stack of cinder blocks and rollers loaded with various shades of white, grey, pale yellow, and blue paint. At once recalling human labor and projecting an autonomous presence, the sculpture created an elegant dialogue between open and closed spaces and offered Op-art views through the rollers’ cores. In the last room of this wing, Jim Redd and Jenny Meads’ suspended swell of white paper modules never rose beyond its origami reference, but Michael Rakowitz and David Gissen’s We Recycle delivered visually even as it raised the issue of sustainable living. Based on a New York City recycling bin from Home Depot, the brightly colored apparatus (others popped up later) made welcome cool air and water from cubed ice.
The patio presented a cheerful study in contrast. One wall boasted a large gridded mural of pooled abstractions by Darcie Book. Julie Liberstat subverted the grand house ideal by interpreting the shades and textures of traditional parquet patterns in swatches of contact paper, while juxtaposing the plywood’s real knots with the paper’s simulated ones. On the facing wall, Rashanna Rasheid-Walker’s Birth of Spring magically turned birthday candles into an elaborate patch of grass.
A faux paint spill coming from the north wing gave the only hint for the engrossing, sensory overload that lurked ahead. Nostalgia and rebellion marked Dearraindrop’s psychedelic room adorned with album covers, magazines, cartoons, children’s activity sheets, and toys, andbuzzing with the dissonant sound from stuck electric organs. The all-over, club-house effect continued in the next room, where members of Space 1026, Isaac Lin, Dan Murphy, Ben Woodward, and Andrew Jeffrey Wright, collaged bits of pop culture, original bestial drawings, and black and white photographs of dilapidated neighborhoods into a zany barrage of images and text, which included “Mommy, grandmother farted.”
In Team Lump’s room, an orange floor set off decal and tattoo-inspired imagery, a wall grouping of small quirky drawings, and a pile of wooden, handmade toys—a shark, a house, and an enigmatic, X-shaped box. William Downs and Amir H. Fallah played with the idea of camouflage and counterfeit in their muralled installation, which mixed Impressionist-style representations and abstract outpourings with Dadaesque word plays. On the back porch, Margot Curran’s Dinghy, a funky boat and pool hybrid rested on an Astroturf island set on blue floor. Made from hot pink and yellow plastic, it nestled a royal blue, ever-so-soft, fake-fur interior, where visitors could rock back and forth.
From beginning to end, “Model Home” served up wacky, fun-filled fare spiced with just enough mental challenge. With antecedents like Kurt Schwitters’s Merzbau and more recently, Scott Hug’s Teenage Rebel—The Bedroom Show, the media-blurring series of mini-environments showed that much can be made from (nearly) nothing with apparent ease. Let’s hope, however, that the kiddie aesthetic develops into something valuable, while avoiding conventional adulthood or becoming a self-indulgent, faux-nihilist cliché.