ROBERT WILSON Living Rooms
On ViewThe Louvre
November 14, 2013 – February 17, 2014
Robert Wilson has taken up temporary residence at the Louvre, and there he has created a “bedroom of state” that rivals any one of the Louis’s. In concept, Living Rooms is a transplant of a small selection from Wilson’s vast collection of artifacts, artworks, and found objects that comprise the Watermill Collection, an intrinsic part of the Watermill Center which he founded out on Long Island in 1992. Living Rooms confronts a world of ideas: the histories of art and human identities that simultaneously inspire, daunt, and overwhelm. The various bedrooms of the kings of France that one can discover in the Louvre, Versailles, or even the Metropolitan Museum in New York are fitted with architectural details meant to keep certain entities at arms length. Wilson has also created an “inner sanctum” for himself in the form of a two-walled room within the larger gallery; the surrounding public space of the installation contains the vast majority of the art. In effect his comfy interior room, an enlarged and mutant canopy bed, is a shield against not only the outside world—the viewers—but a bulwark against the presence of the surrounding objects.
Living Rooms has been placed in the museum’s Salle de la Chapelle and the view through the doorway is immediately blocked by a partition displaying a single wooden chair hanging on the wall. Though the installation as a whole features some furniture behaving as furniture—notably a bathtub, several chairs including a Frank Lloyd Wright Usonian armless chair, and centrally, the king-size bed—the gesture of hanging the chairs throughout the environment, whether they be fragile Shaker pieces or of more sturdy construction, immediately posits everything in the room as “art,” and not even the sub-category of decorative art.
The bed at the center of the room is the focus of the piece. Resting on a plinth within a solid canopy, it is a featureless but comfortable-looking mattress; the eye of the hurricane and perhaps the melting pot of dreams as well. The walls of the surrounding room are lined with objects from floor-to-ceiling, sometimes on shelves, and the floor by the wall is lined with African sculptures, vases, and chairs. Sometimes these objects are arranged according to a vague sort of Linnean organizational scheme; shoes with shoes, masks with masks. This is a collection of “facts, not things” and Wilson playfully turns the notion of what a work of art is on its head iteration after iteration. He places a vintage red telephone next to a pair of red Converse sneakers; these two are right below a carved wood African headrest next to a plastic Goofy figurine; all are practical objects, none made specifically as art, but through whimsy and presentation they achieve sublimity. The notion of ethnography is put through its paces as well, forcing the viewer to acknowledge that familiar household items look as foreign as Sepik River ancestor totems when placed out of context. The inherent enthnocentrism of the “collection” is gently ridiculed by the positioning of a photo of Muhummad Ali, clearly a hero for Wilson, on a shelf with a set of wooden masks. And as nothing matches, everything in the room ends up being a “harlequin set.” There is a questioning of the base reason for collecting—what starts out as sentimental expands like a ripple, achieving a monetary value until it becomes a universal signifier, then acquiring “priceless” status. There are photographs of friends Philip Glass and Robert Mapplethorpe, and an intense Paul Thek sympathetic magic arm, “Untitled 1966-67,” one of the “Technological Reliquaries.” There is a play back and forth: one artist’s personal friendships and connections become historical when placed among a sea of ancient and magical objects, while the latter reveal a personal side amidst their new neighbors.
In opposition to this maelstrom of inspiration, the pavilion where the bed rests is sparsely populated: above the pillows at the head is a glowing shelf, a single bar of light, and across from this, among a handful of other objects, is a similarly luminescent video portrait of Lady Gaga, depicting her hanging upside down, her eggshell skin bulging within the tight confines of an erotic Kinbaku rope. Like the balustrade that could not be passed in the bedroom of the king, separating public and private in a very public context, Wilson has created a museum-within-a-museum, within the Louvre, the nestled demesne of the artistic consciousness.