SOMETIMES armoires seem to flirt, and keyholes appear to wink. At least that's how furniture conceptually "behaves" in Victor Burgin's "The Little House," an experimental work at the MAK Center for Art and Architecture's Schindler House.
To experience the piece, visitors flow through the empty 1922 structure (designed by architect Rudolf M. Schindler as his family home), listening to a story by way of speakers placed in the various rooms.
For the installation, veteran British conceptual artist Burgin adapted a translation of Jean-Francois de Bastide's French novella "La Petite Maison" (1758), which depicts the seduction of a virtuous woman amid flamboyant descriptions of a home and its furnishings. Leslie Dick's narration pumps out through the speakers: "The furniture gleams with fine lacquer and is upholstered in yellow silk. At the center of the ceiling, a crystal chandelier hangs from the mouth of a golden dragon."
The catch is that there is no furniture on site. In this case, guests' imaginations play interior decorator.
"The work is about being in one place and seeing another," Burgin says. "Your mind projects images from the soundtrack onto the blank walls."
The title of the show, "The Little House," not only describes the petite and low-ceilinged Modernist home, but also an 18th century French social phenomenon among the aristocracy. "It was a type of outbuilding," says MAK Center Director Kimberli Meyer. "Apparently these little houses were also used for romantic liaisons -- places where the house owners could go and have private time."
Despite the cornerstone being laid, so to speak, almost two centuries after the European libertine tale was originally told, the Schindler House and its beamed ceilings and high bamboo-encased garden play their parts in the seduction by design.
One of the bare rooms is aurally ornamented by a pairing of piano music and the story track, offering a crossover between 18th century France and 1920s Los Angeles. Lady of the house Pauline Schindler apparently hosted piano concerts in the room. The music, the words and even the Spartan interior all seem quite inviting, especially for reluctant paramours who "need space."
-- Shana Ting Lipton
'THE LITTLE HOUSE'
WHERE: MAK Center for Art and Architecture, Schindler House, 835 N. Kings Road, West Hollywood
WHEN: 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Wednesdays-Sundays; ends Feb. 24
PRICE: $7, or $17 with guidebook
INFO: (323) 651-1510, www.makcenter.org