neugerriemschneider (Linien Strasse 155, Mitte, Berlin) Nov 15, 2014–Jan 24, 2015
At the opening of Jorge Pardo’s solo show, I heard people coo over the beauty of the installation. I am not convinced it is meant to be “beautiful”. In some ways, it is about the definition of beauty—but that is something else. After all, the exhibition primarily involves two fully functioning “bathrooms”.
Pardo (b.1955), one of the artists often lumped together under the rubric of “relational aesthetics”, is most renowned for “Tecoh” (2006-12), a seventeenth-century hacienda the artist restored and adapted as a Gesamtkunstwerk of custom-designed kitchen cabinets, furniture, lighting, tiling and garden. His work primes contradictions to set you at your dis-ease. It is both art and not art. It invites usage and engagement, but also dissonance and alienation. It is about the world now but there is always the hum of anachronism, a social and political echo. For art that is ostensibly so much about design, it is disturbingly uncomfortable.
The main works in the exhibition are two portable bathrooms, fully wired and connected to the water and sewage supply. Every element, including the “drips” running down the walls of the blue bathroom, the precisely molded ceilings and floors and the human waste disposal have been designed. The word “design” connotes drawing, thinking and planning, but also designation. The bathrooms have been designed for you, daring you to use it (no one at the opening had the gumption to do so, certainly not me). It is an exhibition about exhibitionism and voyeurism. It is about production and consumption and more production. It is also about display and control. The rooms’ transparency threatens privacy and good taste, an exotic virus that injects, via color and curve, a queasy sense of 1970s design and accompanying political context familiar to both Cubans and East Berliners, yet insistently foreign, unfathomable. Give it time and the artificiality of the vitrine will cause claustrophobia and panic. Far evolved from distant found-object cousins, the bathrooms as hygiene machines and temples—these Big Glass vitrines for product and process display—cease to be art and become our environment. They already are.