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Home as art, and vice versa

May 15, 2003|Louise Roug | Times Staff Writer

What is a house?

Two young architects posed that question to a group of artists and challenged them to answer it by conjuring up their ideal versions of a house. In this way, they hoped to explore the connections between art and architecture.

And so, free from the realities that restrict architects -- money, a specific site, builders and the laws of physics -- the artists worked with Alan Koch and Linda Taalman, then of the New York firm OpenOffice, to render personalized versions of their dream dwellings.

Now, five years later, the results of those collaborative efforts are on display at the MAK Center for Art and Architecture in West Hollywood's historic Schindler House. They range from plans and models to paintings and a computer game.

Of the nine artists who participated in the project "TRESPASSING: Houses x Artists," four showed earlier this year. Now on show are models by the artists Kevin Appel, Chris Burden, Barbara Bloom, Julian Opie and David Reed.

The architects chose the house as a subject rather than, say, a museum or factory because even nonarchitects "invest a lot of time thinking about houses," said Koch.

At the outset, Taalman and Koch tried to envision what the artists might do. "But it doesn't work like that," said Koch. "When you start making things, it changes."

Along the way, things changed for Koch and Taalman too. They founded OpenOffice in 1997 with the notion that it could become a nexus for architecture and art; in collaboration with the artist Robert Irwin, they rehabilitated the printing plant that houses the DIA foundation's new museum in Beacon, N.Y. But in January of this year, inspired by their work with mostly West Coast artists in "Houses x Artists," they moved to Los Angeles and founded a new firm, TK Architecture.

For the project on show at the MAK Center, every artist approached the house differently, said Koch.

Appel, the painter, imagined a glass house in the woods. The model shows transparent and translucent interconnected glass boxes, appearing almost incandescent in the dim Schindler House. Appel is the only artist in the group who uses the house as his primary artistic subject. Usually, he builds models of homes, which he then paints. In this case, the involved process was turned around. Rather than build a model to paint, he painted plans for the model. (They are also on display.)

Conceptual artist Chris Burden built a model of a do-it-yourself, featherweight, four-story tower of aluminum, wood and glass. Burden's design is the only one yet realized: The prototype, a sculpture-building, is currently on view at Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions in Hollywood.

Barbara Bloom "broke all the rules," said Koch, "and made her own project within our project."

Bloom, an installation artist, created a computer game: virtual home decoration. Objects can be arranged in different rooms of the house, which has a board game-style floor plan made of seven sections, by dragging their picture icons around. The icons are named. A shoe is "annoying," a bird "splendid."

"You can organize all the pink objects, say, in one room," said Koch. "You realize objects are related in a way you didn't think about."

Visitors can play the game sitting comfortably and -- in the Schindler context -- incongruously, on a blue IKEA couch that is part of the installation. It was "the most generic, sofa-like sofa" they could find, Koch explained.

Much like real home decoration, the game never ends.

In the garden outside, the British sculptor Julian Opie stacked C-shaped, concrete blocks on a patch of sand as his model for a house. The blocks represent prefabricated modules that can be combined in various ways, making the house itself portable and changeable. The idea is that within the C-shaped outer shell, there are other modules: a unit of glass (windows) and "a complex built-in furniture system."

Painter David Reed's "Dionysian" solution was to make a bedroom gallery, a place to look at art in "a special place of reverie," said Koch. The model showed a bedroom with a hidden basement and pulleys to change the art on the walls.

It pointed to one question tossed between the architects and artists: "If the house is the art, where do you hang the art?"

When a New York writer saw the show, said Koch, the question somehow got lost in translation and appeared in the magazine as: "If the house is the art, where do you hang out?"

Where, indeed? Perhaps, at least for now, at the Schindler House.

"TRESPASSING: Houses x Artists" is on show until July 27, at 835 N. Kings Road, West Hollywood.

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