New York

Rirkrit Tiravanija

Gavin Brown's enterprise | 620 Greenwich Street

There’s no place like home. Well, maybe that’s not quite true. Rirkrit Tiravanija has built a replica of his East Village apartment, right down to the working toilet, inside Gavin Brown’s gallery. He presents us with a bedroom, a bathroom, a music room, and, of course, a kitchen, all built with plywood walls and filled with ragtag furniture. As always, Tiravanija invites us to hang out—not with the artist himself this time, but with a series of art students he’s installed there for the summer.

Ben, the resident on duty when I went to see the show, studies at the Art Institute of Chicago, where he met Elizabeth Peyton, who hooked him up with the project. Ben may not be returning to the Art Institute; he would like to stay at the gallery, tending bar and making connections. His friend Stephanie, who was visiting from out of town, worries that Ben has been seduced by the art-world glitz surrounding the show. She also thinks it’s a little silly that so many famous artists and critics leave their nice, air-conditioned lofts to hang out in the dirty plywood playpen (or, for that matter, in the bar that is a permanent feature of the gallery). Ben, on the other hand, thinks it’s great. They’re probably both right.

This work is a serious attempt at reshaping social space, in line with Tiravanija’s entire oeuvre, which attempts to open up the gallery to a different kind of activity and, ideally, a different, larger audience. But if Joseph Beuys, often cited as a Tiravanija touchstone, created the Freie Universität—a free university in Düsseldorf with open admissions—this is more like Freie High. An adolescent esprit colors what would seem to be the ambitious generosity of Tiravanija’s gesture, reconstructing the cool corner of the cafeteria more than opening up the art world.

In the past, Tiravanija’s art has seemed more genuinely expansive, less insular than it does here in a particularly clubby, cliquish gallery; leaving the art institution altogether for a park or a mall might break down walls and expectations still more effectively. Even if Tiravanija doesn’t literally expect to make art accessible to the masses (and of course no artist is obliged to do so), his work serves as a metaphor for turning private space public, and you want to see a freer atmosphere. The presence of the bar at the front of the gallery makes things even tougher—it’s too easy for people (including the resident) to hang out there instead of the apartment. I thought it was a little sad that the big plastic bottle of Stolichnaya in the freezer was empty; the students said the famous people didn’t even bring a six-pack. But then, I’m at that awkward age: too old to squat in student squalor, not old enough to wax nostalgic for it.

Oddly, the falseness of the show as a social experiment points out the nature of its success: as representation. When artists were painters, they made reflexive studio paintings (think of Courbet’s masterwork, full of pictures and models and collectors and buddies). Tiravanija makes Conceptual art out of homely events, most notably cooking, and this version of his home serves as a reflexive statement, cataloguing the elements of his life and work. Tiravanija’s representation of his kitchen might be analogous to Courbet’s depiction of his easel and canvas. In any case, it’s all very weird—some place like home is unheimlich indeed.

Katy Siegel