Someone once said that beauty was everywhere, you just have to find it. The exact quote has been bastardized, morphed and flipped around so many times who knows what the actual saying is or who should get credit. Regardless of who said it first, it's a played out saying and there is something almost corny or ironic about it now. If you could bottle the clichéd irony of this saying and shake it up and paint a wall with it, it might turn into Paul Kremer's "Great Art in Ugly Rooms" (GAiUR), now on display at The Brandon (what was once Domy Books)
If the title sounds familiar, it's because Kremer's tumblr of the same name has gotten a boatload of write-ups since its launch, although Kremer's name has mostly been kept out of the press. The site is a series of images of aesthetically unpleasing or "ironically" unattractive rooms that play house to a beautiful piece of famous art. A Normal Rockwell hangs on wall of a boring conference room, a Basquiat adorns the wall of a fast-food joint, a Dan Flavin illuminates a dingy bathroom; you get the point. For the current exhibition, Kremer has blown up several of the images from the site, as well as printing others on stretched canvas. The result is fantastic.
How Kremer gets these, some million-dollar paintings, into the ugly rooms is anyone's guess. Are they all just photoshop magic? Probably. Did he get his hands on some of the artwork and ninja-style hang the pieces in some really ugly rooms? That would be amazing. Or maybe he stumbled upon a famous work hanging in an incredibly hideous room and the idea was born? Could be.
It doesn't really matter, actually, because the end result is all the same.
The pieces on display are definitely some of the best from the tumblr site. The collection begins with the well-known Wood painting "American Gothic" hung in a wood-paneled room right out of the set of American Hustle. The walls are floor to ceiling mirrors complete with gaudy chandeliers. Trying to picture the couple that might inhabit this space and then comparing them to old Ma and Pa of the Wood masterpiece is a huge part of the draw. Just as enthralling is the way the painting reflects in the brightly lit mirrored wall. It is so tacky; it's perfect.
Another highlight is Rembrandt's "Self Portrait" hung in the bathroom that your grandmother refuses to update. The wallpaper is a crowded mess of pink roses, the sink a pink and white swirled marble. The toilet has one of those rug-like covers that went out of style three decades ago, if it ever was in style; it too is Pepto Bismol pink. And then there is Rembrandt just staring back at you. He appears to be rolling his eyes at the decorum just as you are. His disapproving image is reflected in the bathroom mirror, giving him double the opportunity to scorn the milieu. You don't know whether to laugh or to cry for the horrible state he has found himself in.
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My favorite may be the Francisco de Goya, "Still Life with Golden Bream," a painting housed in our own Museum of Fine Arts' "Arts of Europe" collection. Already a disturbing painting of a pile of dead fish, when hung in an inexplicably unsightly kitchen the work takes on a new meaning. The kitchen looks as if someone has just moved in or perhaps they are on their way out or they are in a fraternity. Rather than your standard dining furniture the only place one might sit is a plastic woven beach chair. There seems to be a container of hamburger meat wrapped in plastic, a container of nuts, maybe, and a random tin can. That's about it. The cabinets are of an out-dated wood paneling and an older electric stove that looks like it's seen better days rests against the wall. De Goya's fish watch over the room with a sense of dread. What the hell is going on here?
Much has been said about the concept of placing great art in ugly rooms. Is Kremer making a commentary on the availability of art, taking what is normally hidden away behind the walls of museums, galleries and homes of the wealthy and placing it on the walls of the "have nots?" These ugly rooms are even worse than of those that have not, they are of those that have no taste. For shame.
If you are a fan of the tumblr site or if this is the first you are hearing of it, it is worth seeing these prints on large canvases as their meanings change. The idea becomes less funny/ironic as it may be taken on the tumblr. Rather, it is just plain beautiful and you barely have to look for it.
"Great Art in Ugly Rooms" now through February 16. The Brandon, 1709 Westheimer. Visit thebrandoncontemporary.com for hours and information. Free.