Ever since the British Army blew up a garden shed for Cornelia Parker in 1991, the art world has been feeling the impact. Cornelia Parker - the acclaimed British sculptor and installation artist – has squashed silver-plated objects with steam rollers (Thirty Pieces of Silver, 1989), created a vitrine for Tilda Swinton to sleep inside at the Serpentine Gallery (The Maybe, 1995), and wrapped Rodin’s The Kiss in a mile of string (The Distance, A Kiss with String Attached, 2003). And that was just the beginning.
 

 

The Underside of Things:

Cornelia Parker

 

By Aimee Rubensteen

Garden Commission: Cornelia Parker,

Transitional Object (PsychoBarn)

 The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2016.

Photographed by Alex Fradkin, Photo courtesy the artist.

 

Aimee Rubensteen is Co-Founder and Director of Rojas + Rubensteen Projects, a new contemporary art gallery and project space, in Miami. As an art historian, Aimee focuses on curating exhibitions and writing articles that utilize art as a platform to encourage viewers and readers to act as participants rather than just observers.

 

Prior to launching Rojas + Rubensteen Projects, Aimee also formerly worked at Sotheby's New York and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. 

 

Cornelia Parker's Transitional Object (PsychoBarn) was on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Roof Garden from April 19 through October 31, 2016

Born in 1956, in Cheshire, England, Parker works like a magician in the way she plays with objects to liberate them from reality. However, she admittedly is not interested in keeping the secrets of her illusions. In fact, honest explanation and visual documentation of her production and installation process is part of her practice. As technology seems to be overpowering our everyday experiences, the physical trace of a medium can be quickly dismissed. Less people ask how an artwork is made. Most art consumers are satisfied with a selfie. Parker, however, cleverly and consistently creates art that focuses on her materials, and their malleability in her hands. She draws our attention to the underside of things – the palpable system of nuts and bolts – that create a work of art.

Most recently, Parker was commissioned to create a site-specific work for The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Roof Garden. The Met explains Parker’s Transitional Object (PsychoBarn) as a large-scale sculpture inspired by the paintings of Edward Hopper and by two cultural archetypes — the classic American red barn and the Bates family's sinister mansion from Alfred Hitchcock's 1960 film Psycho. The house is about 30 feet high and fabricated from a deconstructed red barn from Scoharie, New York. Installed on the Met’s rooftop (above Central Park), the “barn/house” creates an unusual juxtaposition with the architectural design of the Manhattan skyline.

Like the shed that Parker demolished and then suspended from the ceiling (Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View, 1991) to point out something specific about the ephemerality of a familiar structure and its materiality, PsychoBarn also dissects reality. It is a fictional house from a movie plopped into the non-fictional world; it is not a livable structure nor is it homely. Instead, Parker utilizes the barn/ house as a prop, sliced and diced to make the mundane feel bizarre. In true Parker fashion, ephemerality and materiality are like magic dust - tools to create an alienation effect.

Transitional Object (Psychobarn) is comprised of two facades propped up from behind with visible scaffolding; its title alludes to the psychoanalytic theory of transitional objects used by children to help negotiate their self-identity as separate from their parents. Yes, identity and transition are important topics to understand the intention of the work, but in person, the art seems to really challenge our (dis)comfort with what is real and what is an illusion. And, how can we tell the difference even when it is in plain sight?

As I walked around PsychoBarn, it was a sweltering summer day, and yet, crowds of visitors ignored the heat and lingered around the work. After spending time with the grooves and knots of the wooden façade, I focused my attention on the scaffolding. The metal poles and planks intertwined and glistened in the sunlight in a way that highlighted their form. The way my eye followed the lines of the structure – up and down and around - reminded me of Alfred Stieglitz’s famous 1951 photograph, The Steerage. Each line ripening into a geometric drawing. Here too, PsychoBarn demonstrates the poetry in functional form.

Parker is a master of her craft precisely because she creates art that mends dichotomies such as function/form and reality/illusion. This makes me wonder about PsychoBarn’s reference to Psycho; not just the visual reference to the set of the horror film, but also the way in which there is a parallel between watching the flick’s story unfold on camera, and walking around Parker’s installation. Viewers of Psycho know the actors are not in “real” danger, and yet, still respond (viscerally) to each moment of action. Somewhat similarly, museumgoers see that PsychoBarn is a fabricated sculpture, but still experience psychological associations as if it is a genuine house.

Furthermore, the element of surprise in Parker’s installation is important to mention. The Met’s roof is not an easy location for a site-specific work of art. It is a Herculean task for any artist to compete with the panoramic views of the Manhattan skyline. Watching visitors slowly realize that the architectural structure is actually just a façade becomes its own form of entertainment. To be fair, at first glance, only the façade is visible. It truly appears to have the volume of a house. The illusion strangely continues to warp the perception of the visitor even after she sees the skeleton of the house in full view.

Before I left the Roof Garden, I looked in the large reflective windows by the bar. Not only was it the perfect spot for a selfie, but the perspective and scale of PsychoBarn in the distant view felt especially strange in the mirror. The iconic American barn becomes an unlikely authoritative architectural presence among New York’s most important skyscrapers. This is an easy metaphor for Parker to be compared to – a British artist making a dent in the American landscape. However, it is more refreshing to consider that Parker is challenging our perception and construction of reality in a city that is brimming with tricks.

Cornelia Parker, Thirty Pieces of Silver, 1989

York St. Mary's 

Photograph by Shannon Tofts

Cornelia Parker, Transitional Object (PsychoBarn)

 The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2016.

Photographed by Aimee Rubensteen

Cornelia Parker, Transitional Object (PsychoBarn)

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2016.

Photographed by Aimee Rubensteen

Garden Commission: Cornelia Parker,

Transitional Object (PsychoBarn) at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2016. Photographed by Alex Fradkin, Photo courtesy the artist.

Edward Hopper, House by the Railroad, 1925.

MOMA NYC

Cornelia Parker, Transitional Object (PsychoBarn)

 The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2016.

Photographed by Aimee Rubensteen

 

 Cornelia Parker, Heart of Darkness, 2004

Cornelia Parker

Photo: www.royalacademy.org.uk

Alfred Hitchcock, Psycho, 1960