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Review: Olga Koumoundouros takes on American dream of home ownership

March 21, 2013|By Leah Ollman
  • Installation by Olga Koumoundouros at Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects.
Installation by Olga Koumoundouros at Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles… (Robert Wedemeyer / Susanne…)

Last year a woman living across the street from Olga Koumoundouros died, and the woman's partner moved away. Their house, saddled with a large second mortgage, was not sold, but seemingly abandoned.

Daunted by her own looming mortgage payments, Koumoundouros took a look inside, imagining she might squat there for a while, rent out her own place, and alleviate some financial pressure.

She did end up occupying the house on Holyoke Drive in Glassell Park, but more as a socio-aesthetic intervention than as an alternate residence. The impulse toward one kind of opportunism gave way to another, more civic-minded, as she considered the assortment of belongings left behind by the owners (most hauntingly a box from a cremation service, intended for the dead occupant's remains) and the string of foreclosures along the same block.

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A larger narrative about place, continuity, community, economic insecurity and loss began to unfurl. Koumoundouros painted the house radiant gold, to emphasize its status as a valuable commodity, and went about altering the interior to call attention to the home's more private role as a site of memory, a membrane of protection.

The tale of "A Notorious Possession," as Koumoundouros dubbed the house/project, is an interesting one, threaded through with complex economic and ethical issues, and it exemplifies a worthy sort of social practice in art these days.

But you had to be there. The story does not translate well into the form of a gallery exhibition. In "Possessed by Glint and Dreams," at Vielmetter, the dynamic nature of the activist enterprise turns leaden and inert, its earnestness soured into self-conscious gesture.

Straddling two galleries and dominating them both are the gold-painted tarps that Koumoundouros tailored to cover the roof of the house. Here they hang upside down, an inversion of the idea of shelter. Knotted ropes of brightly dyed bed sheets drop down through them to the floor, like escape routes from a child's dream.

As in the house, Koumoundouros spray-painted a continuous, meandering rainbow across the walls and over several elements of the installation.  The rainbow and its attendant pot of gold symbolize the American dream of home ownership, here given a gloss both ironic and whimsical. In addition to the gold house itself, Koumoundouros identifies as prizes a gold-painted satellite dish and wall-mounted garden hose.

Objects left behind in the house and displaced by their owners' absence are twice displaced here: a one-armed, faux-suede recliner; a denim couch ("Leprechaun Trap") tilted up on one end to rest on a slab of countertop granite. Furniture, tabletops littered with mundane junk, the refrigerator door's collage of ephemera -- all these relics are rainbowed over, drenched in resin or slathered in plaster, but to no poetic effect.

Koumoundouros might have occupied the house on Holyoke Drive with soul and spirit, but her takeover of the gallery feels like a presumptuous land grab.

Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, 6006 Washington Blvd., Culver City, (310) 837-2117, through April 10. Closed Sunday and Monday. www.vielmetter.com

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