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"Heads and Hands: A Fluid Exhibition with Loans from the nvisible Museum"
2001-01-26 until 2001-03-01
Decatur House, WPA/C
Washington, DC, USA United States of America

Works from Matthew Barney, David Hammons, Gary Hume, Callum Innes, Emma Kay, Paul D. Miller aka DJ Spooky, Cady Noland, Marc Quinn, Mark Wallinger. The nvisible Museum is a nomadic and evolving collection of contemporary art. Adapting according to context, space, city, it occupies its place in Washington, DC, as a subliminal tenant of a historic home across from the White House with loans subtly installed in an alternative reading as to collection and representation. Cady Noland's 'Pipes in a Basket' [1989] stand functionally and symbolically in the far corner of the sparse kitchen as within any other domestic's place, Callum Innes' Untitled [1995] shellac and oil on canvas painting hangs as an incongruous extension of the exposed stripped plaster wall, and Marc Quinn's home-made bread hands conspicuously occupy a place above the mantel.

These and other transient or physical works throughout the house, such as Paul D. Miller aka DJ Spooky's composition resounding throughout the Second Floor, convey the nvisible Museum's intent to create a spatial dialectic revealing a substratum of economic, political, and social interrelationships. Glancing out the window across the courtyard and into the Carriage House, Mark Wallinger's 'Prometheus' [1999] image of himself is conveyed as one apparently constrained, his voice projecting in a slow drone from Ariel's song in 'The Tempest': Full fathom five thy father lies, Of his bones are coral made: Those are pearls that were his eyes; Nothing of him that doth fade, But doth suffer a sea-change Into something rich and strange. In leaving the drawing room, one indiscriminately finds reflection in the Drawing Room mirror only to read Emma Kay's 'The Bible from Memory' [1997], initiated as a direct citation on a single sheet of paper and subsequently evolving into an abstraction from her memory.

Heads and Hands provides the notion of an exhibition as a tour rather than a citing of individual objects extending beyond revealing the identities of private individuals or the importance of the house as an isolated architectural structure and container of static aesthetic objects. Decatur House is as a social institution with an implicit designation of a broader framework for the system of relations. The illusions of the interior marked by furniture and decorative objects without function characterize the home not as a shelter but as a citadel upholding the ideology of autonomy and privacy and the defense of private property. In interjecting the notion of from hand to mouth as in sustenance, or in hand to head as in Matthew Barney's 'Field Dressing Manual C' [1989-92], a form of exchange as in David Hammon's mutated dollar, or the isolated head denoting a more representational image relating to patronage and order as in Gary Hume's 'The Cleric' [2000], the nvisible Museum approaches the internalized system endemic to a domestic home in reconditioning the notion of how art functions in the present day world and how contemporary art lends to the rightful reinterpretation of history.

Benjamin Henry Latrobe is regarded as the father of American architecture, a somewhat nominal historic figure noted for his artist's temperament and reputation as an insubordinate inspired by a school of architectural thought characterized by simplicity, geometric power, and rationalism, deemed both politically and aesthetically radical for its time. Latrobe's notion of a domestic home incorporated a unified place of coexistence - hierarchically compartmentalized but nevertheless cohesive in providing for a new tenant order comprised of owners and servants located within one building. The recent discovery of a kitchen located off the main vestibule of one of his only remaining buildings, The Decatur House [1818], and formerly understood to be Stephen Decatur's office, has unveiled a transformed room, one neutral and unresolved, subject to further disclosure as to how an enslaved labor force contributed and endowed domestic life in historic houses. It has also attributed Latrobe with having been the first architect to incorporate the kitchen into the main living quarters, placing slaves as tenants into a space formerly entrusted and privileged for the seclusion of private individuals endowed with guaranteed protection and freedom to pursue self-interest.

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