What is the bizarre pleasure in looking at art in banal rooms? Is it the economic disparity between the blue-chip objects and their more middle and lower class surroundings that make them interesting? Maybe this unexpected contrast emphasizes that context is everything in the realm of modern and contemporary art. Well, presenting Great Art in Ugly Rooms.
Outside of the white box, do these works lose a little of their power to inspire? It amazes me that Marcel Duchamp’s “Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2” (1912) looks surprisingly at home in a wood-paneled room, or that the Barnett Newman easily blends into the bargain store surroundings by visually being transformed into a generic super graphic. Some of the art does look out of place, like the work by Jean-Michel Basquiat, which is far too edgy and busy for a typical fast-food chain.
If you’re ever seen a great work of art in someone’s home, you know that paintings often hang crooked in private hallways or sculptures can be blanketed with dust because cleaning staff are told not to touch them. These are the lives of works outside of museums, auction houses, galleries, and Architectural Digest spreads. Maybe these photos are fascinating because we know they are impossible. “Great” art should be inaccessible, many of us secretly believe, even if it is the opposite of what we say to the world. Recently, a Michelangelo went on view at an Italian prison, but the reason that decision made headlines was because the concept seemed odd. What would great art be doing there?