17 November 2000 - 19 January 2001
with owner/curator Courtenay Smith
by Hannes Gamper and Karl-Heinz Einberger
Courtenay, what were your expectations when you offered Charles Wiesen
the opportunity to work in your exhibition space, which is at the same
time your living space?
It's a good question, and a difficult one to answer, because I knew Charles
first as an artist who made particular objects. Creating contexts is a
somewhat newer aspect of his work, which he first explored, as I see it,
in A Gallery/Lobby Exhibit at the College of DuPage in Chicago,
Illinois. I was trying to imagine what kind of context he would create
at homeroom, in light of the individual objects that he
had made before. From the start, however, I wanted the space and the show
to be very open-ended for him. So in a sense, what I expected was very
little. My expectations were low because I wanted him to feel free to
propose something that he wouldn't be able to do in another space.
that, I must also say that because homeroom is in an apartment,
Charles did have to adhere to the house rules, in terms of how the space
is treated, just like all the other tenants. Naturally these rules, such
as no loud noise and no alterations to the floors or walls, differ somewhat
from those of, say, a commercial gallery or storefront.
the areas of the apartment that were available for him to use became a
restriction. When I first invited him to do a project, I didn't really
foresee a problem with him using the entire apartment. However, after
going through a couple of exhibitions, I realized that I did not want
visitors perusing art in my private space, that is, my bedroom. It's a
very nineteenth-century-and bourgeois-notion of how space should be used,
but one that I adhere to: that private space and work space should be
process of trial and error I have learned that conventional definitions
of what a home is come to bear, in some ways, on the shows that happen
in this home/gallery. For example, my boyfriend and I have an art collection
that hangs in our hallway, which we believe is as important as the show
that is on display in homeroom. As this relates to Charles' project,
I asked that he not hang anything over these pieces (as he described in
an initial proposal), since I wouldn't insert other artists' works into
I don't have a problem with an artist's work flowing out of homeroom
into other rooms in the apartment-except the bedroom, of course-but because
of the aforementioned issues, both parties will always have to discuss
and agree upon what exactly that means. If it means, for example, the
temporary removal of certain art works in our collection, then perhaps
I would be agreeable to it.
about these kinds of issues, Charles and I refined both of our expectations.
In the end, we reached a compromise: that Charles would produce a piece
specific to homeroom proper. Had he wanted to bring certain elements
of this installation out into the dining room, however, I would not have
had a problem with that.
In the piece Charles has produced, he has taken both parts of your name,
"home" and "room," literally. That is, he doesn't
regard the space as only an opportunity to exhibit. Rather, his work extends
out of it in such a way, I think, that his show begins already at the
door of your apartment.
Yes, but I also think that every show I do begins at the door of my apartment
because visitors are entering an apartment and not a conventional "gallery
space." Of course, people's expectations change with the conventions
of any space. Therefore, what is interesting to me is the behaviour of
visitors when they are in homeroom. Because I am essentially greeting
them at the door like a host, their visit begins with a casual conversation.
Sometimes people stay and just hang out or read books, like you might
do in someone's home. Charles plays off this conventional expectation
of a "home" as well, only in the opposite direction by producing
objects that could never function in one.
Talking about the installation in particular, I noticed that the "paintings"
Charles made for it have individual titles and are listed separately on
the checklist. When I first entered the show, I mentally took one of the
paintings with me and placed it in my own collection. I imagined how it
might interact with the other paintings in my room. How do you view the
paintings and what do you think about them in particluar?
First, I don't think of them as just "paintings." I believe
they exist somewhere between painting and sculpture, as the name of one
of them, Painting or Sculpture (2000), implies. The reason that
they are listed separately on the checklist is because they refer to one
of Charles' earlier works, a framed eight by ten inch piece of aluminium,
with protruding screwhooks on each side, that can be hung on the wall
if desired. The questions prompted by that piece are the same as here:
should these "paintings" be held in the hand, left on the floor,
used as trays, leaned against the wall, or hung up like pictures? If used
as pictures, are they landscapes or portraits?
the paintings are independent entities, Charles has placed them into this
specific installation. So they are also part of a set. This I find interesting,
especially as the gesture relates to the manner in which furniture is
sold in many stores in the States. You can always buy a complete set of
furniture, in almost any style, that will establish your "home"
as such: a couch, a chair, a table, a lamp, and, possibly, a picture.
I find interesting about Charles' paintings is that they make you look
at all framed pictures in a structural way. We tend to view pictures in
frames as self-contained fantasies, "other" worlds that we look
into. The frame is what separates us from the action inside them.
Accordingly, framed pictures or paintings are safe, in that they are at
a distance from us, both physically and mentally. However, something different
happens when you hang one of Charles' paintings next to a framed one.
Because his paintings have no frames, the surface color is the "image"
that confronts you; it is in your space. The reason it is in your space
is because it is laying on a thick sheet of pressboard. The surface is
a real object with three dimensions, not an image inside. Therefore, we
are forced to think about what a painting is supposed to be and what the
purpose of a frame is.
what I have just described comes out of relatively recent art history,
specifically Brian O'Doherty's discussion of Impressionsim in Inside
the White Cube: The Ideology of the Gallery Space (1986). But since
we tend to forget recent history, it is nice to have Charles' paintings
around to prompt us into looking at old problems again.
Beyond the fact that the "paintings" exist between surface and
object and ask questions in this regard, they also call painting, as such,
into question. The same also happens with the "furniture" Charles
has made, which isn't quite furniture but addresses aspects of it.
The furniture Charles has produced here seems, to me, to be in dialogue
with modernist design. His pieces are clean, sleek, geometric-something
Mies van der Rohe would have liked. However, they are not something that
van der Rohe would have produced, since the cultural context surrounding
them is quite different. We have to remember that things "out there"
in our culture inform art and vice versa. Just as there is a renewed interest-particularly
in the design community and the purchasing departments of stores like
Target-in classic modernism, so it is that these elements crop up in Charles'
work. We need to remember, too, that modernism intended to be, but never
made it as, a popular style-in terms of taste or economics-but today it
is being sold successfully as such. I am not sure that consumers always
realize what they are getting!
I also view his installation as a prototype that, in this case, has been
tailored to my particular space. For example, the dimensions of the "chairs"
are proportional to chairs I own and use and which are here throughout
the year. The colors of the furniture and paintings refer to colors prevalent
in my apartment. This said, Charles would like to work with a collector/consumer
who is interested in the concept and for whom the idea could be adapted,
according to their particular wants or needs.
In this way, the piece is individualized over and over again, so the specific
reaction to an individual situation is an essential aspect of it, I think.
Yes, and in that way I see it very much related to an Ikea product that
has a certain "look." It's a prototype for what you could have
with endless possibilities for rearrangement and reuse. Charles' willingness
to work with collectors is evidenced in a recent project he did in Chicago
called Compose (2000), in which he worked directly with a couple
to produce an installation that was both pleasing to them and with which
he was intellectually satisfied. In that project there was no distinction
between "a home is a home" and "a home is a gallery."
At homeroom, however, he and I had to move consciously back and
forth between these two poles. This opened the door for work that is perhaps
more propositional. How does art transform a piece of architecture? Which
comes first? Can a chair be a sculpture?
Interestingly enough, the edges of his "furniture" are open,
which relates to his paintings and their tendency to go beyond the area
they occupy. The furniture addresses the space as a whole, which reminds
me of a show I saw in Vienna this spring called The Unprivate House.
There, issues of publicity in private spaces were discussed, too.
That show and the essays in its accompanying catalogue were exactly in
my head in relation to this show and homeroom in general. I think
The Unprivate House brings up issues that have very much to do
with subjective definitions of private and personal space. For me, I absolutely
must retain at least one area of this home/gallery that is just for me.
As I have already said, this is a rather nineteenth-century concept-one
that developed with the rise of middle class and their desire for leisure
time, making work no longer associated with, or situated in, the home.
I think it has become very hip now to go back to a more medieval model
of living, of compressed domestic and work space. It seems that there
is pressure, particularly in architecture, to bring both spaces back together
again-to essentially live your work, to work your lifestyle. It is not
an idea that I particularly agree with, if partly because I am not able
to adhere to it on a personal level. But the problems it poses shape my
understanding of homeroom and force me to question where my beliefs
come from and what they might produce. I ask artists to do the same when
they work here. The collaboration has to go back and forth between these
areas and issues and with Charles it has, in very clear and strong ways.
KH: It is interesting that you work on this overlap of private
and public, on the shifting nature of the two realms. I think it's remarkable
in running your space the way you do, that you put yourself in the middle
of the discussion and the process. This is where the content really lies.
In The Unprivate House, the notion of public space in private houses
was not really resolved or addressed in very different ways.
I agree with that. I found that many of the houses in that show came off
as typically modern design concepts, in the sense that they are very beautiful
singular objects. But do they really work? Would you want to live in them?
Did the person who lived in Mies van der Rohe's Farnsworth House, whose
glass walls offer small comfort in the face a Midwestern winter, really
think it was worth it? That house, though privately owned, is now used
as a museum for most of the year. I think there is still more questioning
that needs to happen with regard to exhibitions like The Unprivate House,
but I find the re-presentation of modern ideas as something brand new
quite interesting. It's very commercial.
What comes into play now is practice of life, I think. The issues are
pushed much more towards the compexity of our lives. It has become very
clear that your venture is part of this requestioning. I think it's worth
mentioning that you do not position yourself apart from the discussion
but are in the discussion. Having seen this, I can understand homeroom
Another interesting aspect, which is addressed in the show is its temporal
quality, that it takes on characteristics of an event. That comes from
the fact that the artist integrates the apartment into the piece. How
do you view this, and how do you deal with this aspect?
I believe every exhibition is an "event," in the sense that
it is only in one space at one time for a certain period of time. Having
said that, the difference I see between Charles' show at homeroom
and one in an institution is that homeroom served as his studio-first
in virtual, or conceptual, form through e-mails and photographs, then
in literal form when he came to Munich to install his work. All of his
gestures, decisions, and edits were made outside of his private studio
in Chicago and in direct relation to this space.
happens when the show is over and everything is taken down? What happens
to these particular objects? Well, there are several possibilities. The
"furniture" could be sold in pieces and put into someone else's
context, where it would take on characteristics of the new home/room/place,
just as artworks in traveling exhibitons do-they migrate and change. The
show could also be thrown away or given away. Another option is to fold
everything up and display it as a stack or autonomous sculpture. An ideal
situation would be that the installation is rethought and reconfigured
for another person. The next person's place would be Charles' studio,
a place to migrate to.