PRINT November 1998


JORGE PARDO’s house at 4166 Seaview Lane in Mount Washington has a view across the Hollywood Hills all the way to the Pacific Ocean, and it gets the sea breeze from noon to six. Conspicuously, however, the house has no front door, which is pretty much what you’d expect of a nearly 3,000-square-foot house that is also a work of art. This is not to say that there’s anything perverse or precious or theatrical or contrived about this brand-new, flat-roofed, redwood-clad, single-story structure. It is merely to note that the house Pardo built—and that Los Angeles’s MoCA is showcasing this fall, before the artist takes up permanent residence there—is marked by an uncommon self-consciousness: it asks how, and to what end, a work of art makes itself visible as such.

The house came out of a twenty-two-page, clothbound, foldout book that Pardo conceived of as a sculpture no less than a folio. Produced in an edition of ten in ’994, it is a kind of provisional blueprint for the house, details of which—from the lighting scheme to the plethora of built-ins—have subsequently been worked out in various exhibitions along the way (two versions of the kitchen cabinetry, for example, were displayed as Pardo’s contribution to MoCA’s “Pure Beauty” show, in ’994). The artist is clearly more attracted to simultaneity than to mediating the differences between things; indeed it would be an understatement to call what resulted on Seaview Lane a hybrid. It is more an ontological oddity: a private space with public aspirations, an art object with blatant use value, a museum exhibition in the absence of a museum, if not of its institutional procedures and ritual objects—uniformed guards, official hours, and a show on loan from another museum (an exhibition of Pardo’s handblown glass lights, borrowed from the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam).

Pardo, a Cuban-born, Los Angeles-based artist, has long brought notions of sculpture to bear on things that aren’t regularly take as such—retro-hip pieces of furniture that were inspired by modernist designers from Alvar Aalto to Arne Jacobsen; a redwood pier extending into the Aasee, on view during the summer of ’997 in Münster; a white sailboat dry-docked at the Chicago MCA in the spring of that same year. These works become art in various ways, the most obvious among them—by virtue of their spare beauty—being the least compelling. Most provocative is the way they promulgate the Minimalist notion of sculpture as a thing in the world, rather than a thing apart; following Morris, Judd, et al., Pardo fathoms art as the occasion for encounter (i.e., questions), rather than the generic stuff of aesthetic experience (i.e., self-sufficient answers). There is, however, both more and less to it than that. In the absence of a deus ex machina, context typically arbitrates what is and is not art. Pardo is concerned with context, to be sure, but he is likewise intrigued by the shopworn notion of intentionality, which he radicalizes with characteristic slyness. His lamps and stools, pier, boat, and house function as works of art because they were conceived of and executed as such. Which is to say, here any concession to the utilitarian is swiftly recuperated by force of the artist’s overarching conceptual scheme.

A trip to the construction site in late July—and a chat with the artist, who is also a builder, and Robert Gero, the contractor, who is also an artist—was instructive on this count. Even in skeletal form, the project’s structural ingenuity was easy to see, and so, too, was its self-reflexivity. From the street, it appears somewhat impenetrable, even bunkerlike; once you are on the inside, all is transparent: the house takes the form of a meandering semicircle of glass neatly curving around a central courtyard, with the bedroom, two bathrooms, study, and living room arranged like links on a chain, in the manner of Judd’s “one thing after another.” The debt to classic California postwar architecture is, of course, evident, but mercifully muted—i.e., there are few blatant Julius Shulman-esque photo-ops. Special attention, however, should be paid to the conversation pit directly across from the kitchen; it is the reductio ad absurdum of a house-cum-work of art designed to engender discourse. If Minimalist sculptor Robert Grosvenor conceived of his work as “ideas which operate between floor and ceiling,” Pardo here becomes his literal-minded heir.

When I first approached the house, I parked on a strip of someone else’s property and was urged to move my car immediately. Apparently, the neighbors are a bit touchy and more than a little confused, though, the surrounding area is already a kind of architectural theme park, with a cluster of architect-designed homes, including one by Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West studio. Still, it’s unlikely that the residents of Seaview Lane relish the prospect of a free courtesy shuttle running continuously on Sundays back and forth between MoCA downtown and their otherwise tranquil neighborhood. But Pardo’s house is sure to jack up local property values (the bottom line in LA), which should help the Mount Washingtonians put a better face on their temporary travails. Indeed, on a subsequent visit to the site, in late September, a woman walking her dog saw me, notebook in hand, and eagerly asked if I was interested in taking a look at her house, too.

Susan Kandel is editor of art/text. She is one of the ten contributors to CREAM: Contemporary Art and Culture (Phaidon, 1998).