In a recent interview, the artist Jorge Pardo, responded, when asked about the effect on his work of growing up under the political and economic system in Cuba, which formed the backdrop to his youth, that he was a “post-Marxist” who didn’t “believe in any of that shit”.
Born in Havana, he moved with his family to Chicago in 1969 and studied biology before turning to art. During his time at the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles, there was significant debate as to what constituted art and its practices. Pardo’s work, which has been widely exhibited in museums and galleries since the 1980s, grew out of such discussions. But it remains hard to define.
Usually described as crossing boundaries between art, design and architecture, he incorporates recognisable everyday objects such as furniture, paintings and even actual houses into his “installations”. To walk into this current show is a bit like wandering into the lighting department of Ikea and being told that it is really a gallery. So is this art as set design or is it something more?
The very question: “is it art?”, ubiquitous in the experience of much innovative art of the last century, places ambiguity centre-stage in the appreciation of modern and contemporary art. The critic Harold Rosenberg coined the phrase “the anxious object” to describe this situation. Ambiguity can, of course, equally be the hallmark of very good or very bad art.
This awareness can, itself, breed a certain ambivalence. What I am looking at could either be very fine or equally it could be very poor. Ambiguity, so beloved by the Romantics and the Surrealists, by its very nature unsettles so that responses are, themselves, destabilised. The aim of all this, of course, is to disrupt preordained ways of seeing and experiencing the world and ambiguity remains one of the main weapons in the armoury of the avant-garde. Collages, montage, the found object, painting from photographs all exploit the gaps and discrepancies in exploded certainties. All challenge the boundaries of cognition.
For his second show at the Haunch of Venison, Pardo has created a series of works inspired by his project Mérida House – a dilapidated building bought by the gallery in the Mexican city of Mérida, which is being “restructured and reworked” by the artist using influences derived from the local culture and landscape. In fact, the house is undergoing a complete reconstruction, from the interior to the landscaping of the garden and swimming pool.
The idea is that it should function as a sculpture as well as a residence and that the furniture, objects, wallpaper, tiles, lamps and paintings should cross boundaries between the disciplines of art, design and architecture. But whether this adds up to more than an intellectual version of one of those TV home improvement makeovers is hard to say.
The exhibition is a rather odd affair. All the walls of the gallery have been covered with life-size photographic murals of the Mérida House, which looks like expensive designer wall paper. Digitally created, multifaceted objects that obviously take their genesis from native South American masks – they look vaguely leopard or fish-like – hang on the walls between what Pardo refers to as “paintings”; sculptural objects not, in fact, made of paint but digitally constructed using the decorative elements and patterns of tiles and floors. Between these are five sets of eight intricate lamps constructed from transparent recycled plastic that look like big dandelion clocks.
Recently, Phaidon has published a new monograph on Pardo’s work and for his last exhibition the gallery produced a glossy catalogue with an almost unintelligible essay by the artist Liam Gillick insisting on the importance and gravitas of this work. Yet, try as I might to feel real enthusiasm, all this “ambiguity” and “crossing boundaries” just seemed like so many rather dull and well-worn paths and this did feel more Ikea than art.
Jorge Pardo at the Haunch of Venison, London until 19 April 2008
Content and Texts © Sue Hubbard 2008
Images © © Jorge Pardo 2008. Courtesy of The Haunch of Venison