First rule of museum design: Don’t upstage the art. A museum such as the Guggenheim in New York (or its metallic counterpart in Bilbao) tends to treat the art it contains as rival creative forces. In some cases, it even attempts to actively subjugate them. The opposite (and antidote) to this approach, the generic white gallery box, does its best to let the artworks breathe and is all too willing to recede into the background. Boring, yes, but it’s ideal for most work—or, rather, it’s the kind of space that most artists are comfortable working within and against.
In the former, the space conditions the art, while in the latter, the art conditions the space. But in both scenarios, the art maintains its rarefied presence. Not the case with Great Art in Ugly Rooms (GAiUR), a Tumblr blog that recontextualizes some of the 20th century’s more iconic canvases and sculptures. It snatches the artworks from their sanctified halls and drops them into charmingly banal set pieces.
A Joseph Albers color study hangs in a musty bedroom with egregious seventies decor. A Dan Flavin fluorescent sculpture illuminates a dingy bathroom. And a Barnett Newman painting creeps into a Goodwill shop. The strange thing is that it works.
The project started after its (secret) creator and a friend discovered a catalog picture that used a Kaz Oshiro as a background prop. "We were txtLOLing about how weird it looked in the room it was in. It went from there," they tell Co.Design.
They began collecting images of suburban bedrooms, garages, and rec rooms to pair with paintings by the likes of Robert Motherwell and Jean-Michel Basquiat, installations by Maurizio Cattelan and Tom Sachs, and prints by Cindy Sherman. The search for the right environments proved far easier than GAiUR had originally anticipated: "There is a mass of beautifully ugly interiors out there. People have started sending me images, but a Google image search for any type of room brings up fascinating results. In fact, I don’t know why somebody isn’t collecting, framing, or exhibiting these."
The rooms are chosen for their atmospheric qualities—whether, for example, they look "hot," "stinky," or "stale." The soil-like browns and metallic grays of Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 blend right into a wood-paneled living room.
Their dimensions and the perspective of the photograph also factor into the selection process. An Alberto Giacometti Tall Figure stands at the back of a long, narrow hallway, framed by a round-edged portal. In another entry, a wide shot of an empty corporate boardroom is fixed by Norman Rockwell’s Freedom from Want that hovers just above its vanishing point.
In the few weeks since the Tumblr blog was launched, all manner of requests have flooded the GAiUR inbox, its founder says. "People have been crawling out of the woodwork with questions and offers. Now I just have to decide who I want to crawl back in with, or whether I should just blow it all off and see if I can convince the manager at my local Cracker Barrel to replace their artwork with mine."