To be trapped in Soho in a hellish, multi-room environment that has been, or is, inhabited by mutants or delinquents—this might occur once in a blue moon, but twice in one week? Yup. (And I’m not talkin’ about Topshop.) Once at Here Arts Center, where Los Grumildos was on view last week, and again at Deitch Projects’ Wooster Street space, where Jonah Freeman/Justin Lowe’s Black Acid Co-op is up through August 15.
“Grotesque. Charming. Sordid. Tiny.,” is how the installation by Peruvian artist Ety Fefer is concisely described on the postcard for Los Grumildos, part of Here’s puppetry program. Foot-tall puppets—hybrids of humans and crustaceans, with lobster claws, scorpion tails, and extra limbs—in individual terrariums “play” various instruments, their herky-jerky movements driven by small motors. In the back room sits a four foot-tall tavern/boarding house, with each room of the several-story house elaborately detailed. A chanteuse entertains the saloon crowd on the ground floor; her pink boa is one of the few exceptions to the otherwise naked, basically anatomically correct crew. Upstairs, a woman with long hair saws on a violin. A man in the next room pumps his knee in rhythm. Fog added to the mysterious atmosphere in the darkly lit environment.
This might’ve been the eeriest thing I saw all week but for the installation at Deitch. The garage structure is unrecognizable once you enter; you immediately have to sign a release form before proceeding. A glaringly fluorescent lit “shop” of mutated wigs is off to the left; it is fitted with a one-way mirror, which you only realize after you’ve exited the room into a hallway, where astrological charts of dozens of people accompany their snapshots, often taken when they were babies.
The many rooms don’t form a coherent narrative, but each suggests some former purpose or catastrophic failure. A kitchen has been torched, with only its charred remains intact. A stodgy museum room with red carpet features traditional art on the walls, but similarly burnt artifacts in freestanding display cases. An attic space is lined with jars of alarming pickled things. The scattered rugs and fur pelts, and the gem colored section of geodesic roof, evoke the 60s. A young woman is curled up on the floor, reading. (Is she a guard? Does she live here?) Most jarring were a makeshift lab, presumably for manufacturing meth, and a basement shop filled with Asian apothecary items and porn. As I was in the gallery, the skies opened up for a mega thunderstorm, which only added to the end-of-the-world feel.
Due to the cost and impracticality of this scale of realistic installation, it is justifiably not seen very often, especially on this level of detail. Deitch mounts such monumental installations periodically, including Nest by the late Dash Snow with Dan Colen. (At the Grand Street space, they’re hosting an open memorial for Snow also through August 15.) They require a huge commitment by the artist, gallery, and audience. But once you enter the bargain, the mutual exchange can be immense. It just takes trust and a little time.
Images: (top) Los Grumildos, by Ety Fefer at Here Arts Center. Photograph by Adrian Portugal. (bottom) Jonah Freeman and Justin Lowe, Black Acid Co-op, Installation view, Deitch Projects. Photograph by Greg Kessler.