Shotgun Review Archive

This House is Not a Home

By May 17, 2007 This House is Not a Home is a highly formal show about being alienated from form and from architecture. This was among the most carefully considered and sparely curated group shows I've seen in Oakland. Artists James Gouldthorpe, Alexander Cheves and Moira Murdock seem to be reflecting on home as a commodity or as a fabrication, in which one might live out a facsimile of life. Closed, monolithic and silent, these structures offer no comfort. They are beautiful and cold, desirable and yet foreboding. Alexander Cheves' sculptures resemble toys - blown-up Monopoly mansions, or farmhouses that would dot an Astroturf hill alongside a model train track. They are blanks that stand in for houses, and they infuse the gallery floor on which they're placed with the suggestion of landscape. His large skyscraper is taller than a person and stands precariously balanced, which adds to the rather pleasing Godzilla effect. The concrete plain recalls the open expanses of the Central Valley, a landscape that inspires much of Cheves' work. gouldthorpedetailweb2.jpg James Gouldthorpe's graceful drawings of Modernist houses remind us that architecture is rarely about the comfort of living. These beautiful, angular structures with their manicured lawns, steeply peaked roofs and glass fa├žades don't look the least bit comfortable. Still, they are inviting in the glamorous way of advertising, invoking the familial myths of the early 1960s heartland. Discomfort as a means to preserve the social order. The images were drawn from the pages of discarded architectural magazines and books found during Gouldthorpe's SF Dump residency in late 2005-early 2006. The lines of scratched-in text that edge the drawings preserve the images' commercial origins, while the title of the installation, "Vacation Homes," continues the narrative of distant family memories and unattainable domiciles. Moira Murdock's wall-mounted sculptures, called "Housebergs," make the sense of life in a chilly Midwestern glass box literal. These houses are frozen into masses of ice, and emerge from the gallery's walls like tumors. A cancer of architecture, infesting the white cube with lumpen growths. They have neither doors nor windows, and when there is a pair, they face away from each other like estranged lovers. On a large wooden table, a sequence of identical white houses hang from a wire armature, circling outward like a featureless suburban neighborhood with no clear entry or exit. murdockhouseberg2.jpg The show brought to my mind Edith Farnsworth's famous quip about Mies van der Rohe after she discovered that the house he had built for her outside of Chicago was neither warm in the winter nor cool in the summer, and the architect refused to compromise his design to make the house habitable. "We know that less is not more," she supposedly said, "it is simply less." We value architecture as fashion and product, and as such Modernist houses are a bit like stiletto heels. Life inside a geometric ideal isn't for everyone - the uniform can be constricting. Still, there's some comfort in regularity, and the clean lines and open planes of this show were a refreshing change from the clutter of daily living.

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