Jorge Pardo

Museum of Contemporary Art

Organized by Bonnie Clearwater of the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami, Florida—and here overseen by Margo A. Crutchfield—Jorge Pardo’s first museum survey is constructed as a spacious, well-furnished house. The domestic spaces (front garden, kitchen, dining room, office, bedroom, and living room) are filled with their attendant objects—sculptures and installations Pardo made between 1987 and 2007. Dispersed throughout are ten enormous photomurals depicting architectural exteriors and interiors designed by the artist. But while this may be a house, it is certainly not a home: You are not allowed to sit on Pardo’s chairs, rest on his bed, or borrow books from his library. This house has been placed in a museum.

In domestic settings, works of art tend
to become decorative objects, blending
with the furniture. In “House,” however,
 canvases that seem suited for sofa accessorizing—large ink-jets in the style of 
Philip Taaffe, say—have been returned to
 the context of a museum. A few of the
 objects are puzzling. Why is the small 
Pinhole Camera, 1987, constructed of
 Styrofoam and textile tape, and why were 
the seven black-and-white photographs
 made with it hung in the office? Why, in
 Le Corbusier Chair, 1990, is the modern
 classic’s frame made of copper rather than its usual steel? Mostly, however, these ordinary domestic furnishings don’t raise such questions.

Pardo challenges the distinction between works of art and ordinary household goods. Indeed, his installation could be a showroom, for here you find a bedroom set, an espresso machine, a refrigerator, a computer, a ladder. If there is no real difference between works in a museum and merchandise in a store, then why give greater aesthetic and economic value to the former? In a showroom, such things would obviously not be considered “art,” so what does placing them in the museum accomplish? Marcel Duchamp posed such questions first, of course, with his readymades; Andy Warhol sharpened them with his Brillo boxes; and Sherrie Levine refined them even further. These artists challenged the very notion of the museum by transforming individual artifacts into art; Pardo takes their deconstruction of the institution a step further, asking what happens when we treat an entire houseful of objects as artworks.

It once was surprising to discover a urinal or a Brillo box in a gallery, but by now Pardo’s army of readymades is not shocking. Once you grasp this exhibition’s conceit, looking at it is not much more interesting than, say, walking through IKEA. That, I think, is his point. His predecessors, underscoring how readily banal objects enter the domain of art, prompted critiques of commodification. “House” doesn’t. This show appears in some ways very traditional. The nearby Cleveland Museum of Art integrates older decorative objects into its galleries of painting and sculpture, and what Pardo offers seems to be a version of that display style, using contemporary furnishings—an approach that makes for a certain amount of blandness. If “House” has a critical edge, it is in this notion. As Duchamp realized, not just anything deserves to be baptized a readymade. Sometimes more is less.

David Carrier