Luster, the dictionary tells us, is a quality of a surface that is characterized by brightness, or radiance - gloss or sheen. It shares the root of lust which comes, like illustration, from the German. So, lust and luster are surfaces and pleasure, surfaces of pleasure and the pleasure of surfaces. The works collected by Henry Urbach all deal with surfaces in delightfully different ways. Luster, the new show at Henry Urbach Architecture, features work by a group of artists and architects addressing issues of surface, space, desire and pleasure. As stated in the press release, the participants "share a common obsession with the surfaces we construct and how they serve to manage anxiety and focus desire."
Henry Urbach’s gallery opened in Chelsea last December as part of the SOHO to Chelsea shift, pioneered by the Dia Center for the Arts, and followed by Comme de Garçons. Urbach is interested in new sites of interface: between the architecture studio, the academy and the art world. His gallery carries the works of Lebbeus Woods, and has exhibited an installation by Hani Rashid and Lise Anne Couture of Asymptote.
Joe DeFazio’s Urns ($2800-$10000) is a collection of vessels and chotchkes assembled out of kitsch collectibles. They sit on a table like religious icons. A grotesque assortment of shiny, freakish lawn gnomes and toy guns, the sculptures are finished in a metallic glaze that makes the objects all the more bizarre. A Siamese-twin gnome stands next to a skull-topped duck, a scarecrow and a Catholic cross assembled from an agglomeration of snowflakes. The shiny, chrome-like coating reflects the viewer in a distorted fun house way. The surfaces of these abject assemblages make them at once objects of desire and disgust.
Three hung cast metal athletic cups, a work by Type A entitled Prize ($3200) call into question the quest for phallic supremacy (mine is bigger than yours). The armored surfaces of faux athletic gear, are hung on the wall, their relative heights determined by their metallic finish: gold, sliver and bronze. They are also beautiful objects in their own right, precious metal simulations of banal athletic gear. Presumably precious metals guards the "family jewels."
Diller+Scofidio’s pieces entitled Vice/Virtue ($5000) are four beautifully crafted glassware objects of uncanny familiarity. Displayed on a sterile medicine cabinet-like shelf, each vessel is presented with a strange twist. A regular drinking glass is warped to contain a capsule of Prozac pills. Another glass, similarly distorted, acts as an ashtray for an unlit cigarette. The most disturbing vessel is a champagne glass that doubles as a syringe containing a green liquid. The surfaces of the everyday container are altered to create multiple chambers-you can smoke and drink at the same time. Diller and Scofidio’s commentary on the everyday object as a vehicle of depravity and danger is unnerving in the sophistication of its fabrication.
Two of my favorite pieces are by An Te Liu: a column of household sponges entitled Soft Load ($2500) and a swatch of wallpaper entitled Levitown ($750). The odd tower of sponges makes up a polychromatic columnar member, tentatively installed under an exposed beam. The sponge, an instrument of hygiene, for maintaining clean (if fetishized) surfaces, is transformed into a bogus structural member, which feigns structural support, while made up of porous blocks of sponge, suggesting obsessive maintenance of surface. The classic opposition of structure/surface is put into play by this witty piece. Liu’s other piece is a sample pattern of wallpaper made up of kaleidoscopic aerial views of Levitown. The source image, a view of the monotonous pattern of suburban tract housing in Levitown is reproduced to create a Rorschach-like surface. The aerial perspective, implying surveillance, is confounded by the multiplication of images and becomes decorative pattern. The bi-axially-symmetrical pattern of generic American post-war landscape transforms to the erotic, traumatic form of the biomorphic. Wallpaper, at once a noun and a verb, parallels the reality of a speculative development of the American suburb that consumes both the suburban and rural frontier with a repetitive pattern of the familiar.
E.V. Day’ s illustrations, entitled Anatomy of Hugh Hefner’s Private Jet 1-5 ($3000) were the most enigmatic in the show. A series of five blueprints, the drawings trace a metamorphosis of Hugh Hefner’s private (parts) jet, from phallic organ to vaginal composition. The first image is a plan of the jet. Though phallic, it is a conventional plan of bathrooms and sleeping quarters. The series charts a transformation of the jet as its organs mutate and multiply into a strangely bodily form. The illustrations map the surfaces of desire symbolized by the quintessential playboys’ love machine.
Both of Katharina Bosse’s photographic images, collectively entitled Realms of Signs/Realms of Senses ($2000) illustrate themed sex club rooms. One is a classroom, complete with a disciplining yardstick, which is at once an indexical instrument and masochistic punishing tool. The other image features a carpet-clad amusement park carrousel pony in front of a mirror. These sex props are costumes of architecture. The images represent masquerading interiors that evoke sexual fantasy and reveal the artificial surfaces of the role-playing.
Joel Sanders’ Bachelor Pad ($8500) is a house designed for a suburban gay male. As with several of Joel Sanders’ projects, this house explores issues of the private and the public. The neuroses of suburban living are explored in a house that frames and displays views of its interior and views of the neighbors. Cut-away views of the house expose its interior, even as it screens itself from the Joneses. Montage images reveal the house as a half-submerged series of spaces, each framing views of the neighbors and of the house itself. The renderings display the fetishized surfaces of lawns, windows, walls and clothes. Naked male torsos appear among the paraphernalia of bodybuilding, dumbbells, bench press, a bed and mirrors. The project questions the normative suburban development’s quest for privacy within community.
Jurgen Mayer Hermann’s paintings entitled Warmer ($500-$800) are heat sensitive monochromatic paintings that respond to human touch by changing color. Given the museum world of "Please don’t touch," the "please touch" of Hermann’s paintings is a delightful invitation in the age of "click here." These small, flesh colored paintings record the desire to leave a mark and to record one’s passage. This is part of the lust in illustrate.
Luster’s steamy innuendo and its discursive underside illuminate much of what makes contemporary spaces stimulating and compelling, sensual and repulsive. Henry Urbach’s curatorial effort is sharp and timely (Sander’s Bachelor Pad is also featured in the MOMA’s show The Unprivate House, and Hermann’s heat sensitive sheets and other projects are featured in the most recent, if not penultimate, issue of Assemblage). The works raise important issues, calling into question normative spatial practices and banal quotidian surfaces. Stop by 560 W. 26th St. New York or (firstname.lastname@example.org) to touch and leave a mark.