The Urban Domestic: 10 Apartment Art Installations


Apartment living can be fraught with anxiety and abjection. The apartment is a site of human relationships and a microcosm of a city’s economic disparities. Apartments are transitory and collapse the boundaries between inside/outside, private/public. Here are ten art installations by contemporary artists, inspired by the apartment for its site specificity, an interest in the urban domestic space as an exhibition venue, and those who have constructed small spaces of memory.

If John Waters designed the ideal apartment. From gallery Shulamit Nazarian about Los Angeles-based artist Genevieve Gaignard:

Genevieve Gaignard’s work exists in a space of in-between. Gaignard, who is mixed-race, uses a range of character performance, self-portraiture and sculpture to explore blackness, whiteness, femininity, class and intersections therein. The daughter of a black father and white mother in a Massachusetts mill town, Gaignard’s youth was marked by a strong sense of invisibility. Was her family white enough to be white? Black enough to be black? Gaignard interrogates notions of “passing” in an effort to address these questions. She positions her own female body as the chief site of exploration—challenging viewers to navigate the powers and anxieties of intersectional identity.

via Arnolfini

via Elitesque

Installation artist Do Ho Suh, who explores the emotional dynamic of public versus private space and homogeneity, recreated several of the domestic spaces where he lived, including his New York City apartment, childhood home in Korea (in the traditional hanok style), and a home in Rhode Island where he lived as a student. The monochrome fabric panels are precisely tailored, but their transparency and fragility lends a dreamlike quality to the spaces.

Photo credit: Guillaume Ziccarelli, via The Creators Project

Photo credit: Guillaume Ziccarelli, via The Creators Project

Berlin duo Michael Elmgreen & Ingar Dragset, the same team responsible for a “rentable” apartment in London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, created an Upper East Side apartment bedroom with ominous red walls. The space belongs to the fictional Norman Swann, described as “an elderly man full of regrets” and “a failed architect” with “the few worldly possessions he has left.” From an interview with the artists:

Michael Elmgreen (ME): Well, he is a bit like a certain persona of us; like the worst of Ingar and the worst of me put into this fictional character—a warning to ourselves to not become as bitter and grumpy and judgmental as Norman. His name comes from a very famous architect called Norman Foster, and Swann is a quite well known and quite pathetic character in Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust. There’s also a symbol of maybe the decline of the British Empire; the big influence of Europe in the old world order, and now suddenly Europe has to come to terms with not playing such a central role anymore. So, it’s kind of a symbol of lost values, but also values that we are all happy are maybe not existing anymore. Ingar Dragset (ID): We also wanted to create a character as a bit older. We don’t have so much art or even film or anything about older people. And we all age. ME: Being a gay man, it’s quite weird that there’s absolutely nothing about being gay and being older in media—especially not in the gay media. . . . It’s almost like you’re not existing [after age 35].

via The Chawed Rosin

via The Gear Page

Controversial artist Ed Kienholz created the 1982-83 installation The Pedicord Apts. with wife and collaborator Nancy Kienholz using salvaged material from the old Pedicord Hotel in Spokane, Washington. From the 1998 New York Times review:

You walk right in, or you turn around and walk right out. The place — which is not quite a place, which is more of an atmosphere — feels like a 1950’s movie crime scene. The longer your stay in the corridor, the more you find yourself imagining what crimes might have been committed behind the closed doors. Nothing spectacular; nothing that would make the papers. The feeling the work creates is creepy, but ordinary. You can imagine a single drunken punch, or maybe a failed suicide. If anyone fired a gun here, it’d be to shoot out a TV set. . . . The room smells a little funny, a little off: it’s the smell of dead air. You don’t realize right away that all the normal proportions of the anteroom have been reduced, so that one’s sense of confinement will induce a subtle but keenly oppressive claustrophobia. Compared with this dull but somehow evil place, the corridor onto which it opens seems like a way out.

Canadian contemporary artist Iain Baxter (who changed his legal name to Iain Baxter&, pronounced “Baxterand”) reimagined his career-turning 1966 installation Bagged Place for the haunting work Rebecca’s Bagged Place in 2013. After Rebecca Levy, who lived above London’s Raven Row Gallery, died, her apartment was donated to the gallery by her family, including her personal belongings — which Baxter wrapped in plastic.

Ilya Kabakov’s 1988 installation The Man Who Flew Into Space From His Apartment, a recreation of a communal Soviet living space, “presents an isolated dreamer who develops an impossible project — to fly alone in outer space. Having built a makeshift slingshot, the hero apparently catapults through the ceiling of his shabby room and vanishes into space.”

via Tony’s Gallery

via Tony’s Gallery

Polish-born Brooklyn artist Olek, aka Agata Oleksiak, put her entire crocheted studio apartment on display. The piece was several years in the making and created mostly from generic Red Heart brand yarn. “This is what I do: I take something very old-fashioned and I change it. It is beautiful to see how, travelling the world, it empowers women,” the artist told The Metropolis. “This is why I often use domestic objects. I crocheted apartments and I crocheted irons and rolling pins and ironing desks. Anything you could chance on in regular life, I crochet and put a spin on it. This is my regular practice.”

Vancouver-based artist Reece Terris built a full-scale, six-story apartment, of which the design for each floor spanned different decades, from the 1950s to the 2000s. Terris used materials from various demolitions he worked on as a general contractor, including floor boards, windows, stereo systems, and plumbing. “I was frustrated by the environmental negligence and wastefulness involved in this never-ending home-renovation process,” he told The Georgia Straight.

Rob Rhee and Dawn Cerny created “a ‘satellite household’ whose main form of hospitality is art” with the Airbnb-inspired installation Xenia. A real-life Seattle apartment was transformed by 15 artists from the seaport city, New York, Portland, and elsewhere — and a listing was published on Airbnb, calling for guests. Visitors were provided with instructions on how to interact with each artwork — like a “couch” that is just a large raised platform in the middle of the room, unglazed plates that leave stains from the previous occupants after being washed, and tables with unique objects for interaction.

Read the story of how two artists created a secret, fully furnished apartment (with no running water) inside a Rhode Island mall and lived there for three weeks at a time for a four-year period. From Salon:

The Rhode Island couple awoke one morning in 1998 to find the name of their street changed: Kinsley Avenue was now Providence Place, which happened to be the name of the 1.3 million-square-foot mall rising on 13 prime downtown acres. Townsend and Yoto were among the Providence residents objecting to the mall — the cost to taxpayers, the colonizing presence of the structure that dominated the skyline from the highway. But Yoto, a scholar, and Townsend, a public artist, expressed their outrage in an unusual way: They decided to live with the mall. Literally. In 2003, inside a 750-foot storage space, abandoned since construction days, they crafted a secret apartment within the mall from which they could study its allure.