Jorge Pardo

Had you visited the new MCA building in Chicago in the past few months, you too would have stumbled across a gorgeous white sailboat resting inside the museum’s dramatic four-story atrium as if in dry dock. This, the main element of Jorge Pardo’s exhibition project Untitled, 1997, was both more and less than what it appeared to be. It was, to a certain extent, an adjusted readymade: a racing boat (the Santa Cruz 27, originally created by designer Bill Lee), or at least its shell, the interior of which had been slightly modified, according to Pardo, to reflect his interest in the Modernist architecture of Rudolph Schindler’s 1922 home. The other part of Pardo’s project consisted of a series of displays (installed in an upstairs gallery space) that changed every week over a three-month period. The second installment, for example, featured a Martin Puryear sculpture from the MCA’s collection, along with a Frank Gehry dining set; in the following week, Pardo showcased work made by his young nephews (their Beavis and Butt-head drawings were hilarious and quite artful). The components and working method of this show are mirrored by a project currently underway for LA MoCA, for which Pardo plans to build a house in the Mount Washington area, where he will install works from the permanent collection on a rotating basis.

Artists like to remind us that the putative “real” world is just an inexhaustible resource waiting to be mined by appropriational maneuvers. If we still look to R. Mutt’s legendary urinal as the archetypal gesture of vanguard aesthetic transfiguration, it’s because today’s most intriguing work inevitably evokes Duchamp. Pardo’s twenty-six-foot-long sailboat shares with Duchamp’s urinal two important characteristics: not only did each object “leave behind” a utilitarian existence for a new life as material for aesthetic thought but, more significant, both are white. This may seem an irrelevant coincidence, yet it suggests that whiteness itself may be a signifier for conceptual activity: whiteness as a filtering system, a bridging device, across or through which ideas, associations, and sensations can travel. In these terms, the iconic Urinal is not merely a new breed of sculptural object, but has generated reflection on archetypes of gender and sexuality. Likewise, Pardo’s white sailboat is more than a resplendent high-design (adjusted) readymade, it’s a tabula rasa on which are inscribed—and through which are symbolically filtered—the discourses to which the artist’s series of weekly presentations give rise. We are invited to contemplate these changeable displays as analogues to the boat: rendering the ordinary aesthetic, weeks four and seven featured a variety of adhesives (e.g. band-aids) collected in the Chicago area, elegantly displayed on white, floor-hugging, nominal pedestal-like units. In relation to Pardo’s artworks-cum-furniture and candylike lamps, these provisional works are at once naive and refined.

Propped on a skeletal cradle, the black mast reaching toward a skylight recessed in the ethereal ceiling, the sailboat was oriented in the direction of nearby Lake Michigan, which can be viewed through a series of glass partitions from the fourth-floor gallery overlooking the atrium. By establishing a formal marriage between the austere white neo-Modernism of the Josef Paul Kleihues–designed space and the craft’s immaculate, refined contours, Pardo’s project will hopefully have prompted visitors to go beyond the obvious question, Why is there a sailboat parked in the middle of a museum?

Joshua Decter