Fantastically Bored

Tyler Leeds

Chris Vorhees and SIMPARCH’s fantastically mundane “Uppers and Downers”has transformed the Smart Museum lobby into a grand domestic scene of clean contrast. A rainbow of open cabinets sweeps between the gallery’s elevated entrance and exit. Beneath this bold Roy G. Biv arch stretches a long white countertop, overflowing with water from a constantly-running, cheap, chromic sink, dwarfed by the expansive countertop and cabinetry. Empty and open, the colorful cabinet arc–the domestic upper–opposes the over-full and closed countertop-waterfall below–the domestic downer. The contrast playfully critiques our cheap domestic imagination and the emptiness of our conflicting desires for excessive accumulation and clean order.

In spite of the magnitude of the entire scene, the faucet, countertop, and cabinets are no bigger than any you’d find in a normal kitchen. The installation’s expansiveness results, instead, from the exhaustive repetition of the empty cabinets. That the exhibit is titled “Uppers and Downers” suggests that it is in the repetitive plural emptiness that our false hopes slowly build into moments of overwhelming frustration–the fountain’s perpetual drip. Our desire for cleanliness and order requires the constant repetition of empty tasks which yield a radically boring and constantly stilted domestic life.

The fountain’s continual showering over the flat row of closed white cabinets contrasts with the colorful cabinet arc’s stilled cascade of downward opening doors. This contrast–between stillness and activity, busyness and boredom, fullness and emptiness, openness and reservation–restricts imagination. The vast emptiness is so overwhelming that we can only imagine more emptiness. Imagination is stifled by ambition, and rather than fill cabinets we make more and leave them empty.

Rainbows result from light playing upon a mist–in this abstract landscape the source of the rainbow is the waterfall beneath. Accordingly, our domestic inability, demonstrated by the overflowing unattended sink, is the source of the empty domestic imagination arching above. The rainbow, an icon for unattainable dreams, has been made materially present. We are now at the end of the rainbow, facing what we feel is empty cliché, and the pot of gold is but a forever flowing sink, nothing rare.

Each shelf of the rainbow arc of cabinets is a distinct shade–each top shelf is red and every bottom shelf is violet. The cabinets open outward from the center, cascading out like a manifold of wings. Yet each open cabinet door encroaches upon the next cabinet–the impulse to reveal is counterproductive. All but two of the cabinets in the rainbow arc open; these two closed cabinets in the left of the rainbow compositionally balance the sink, which is set in the right half of the countertop. They reference the closed cabinets beneath the countertop and contrast with the two entirely open cabinets in the center of the arc. The balance between upper and downer is delicate and each depends upon the other. Imagination results from the tedium of overwhelming failure and such failure results from an overambitious imagination. The attempt to compartmentalize and order even our whimsical ideals of nature–rainbows and waterfalls–is untenable.

A neon light cycling through the spectrum of the rainbow spans across the top of the countertop-waterfall; another spans across the bottom of the cabinet-rainbow. The rate of their cycles is deliberately mismatched so they flow in and out of sync. Their competing glows fade into the edges of the wide empty white canvas spanning between the rainbow and waterfall. Their complementary vacillations further demonstrate the disorder within our attempts at order as well as the incongruence between competing domestic desires.

“Uppers and Downers” is a part of the “Threshold” series of installations in the Smart Museum lobby; it’s also a part of the multi-exhibition “Feast” project celebrating radical hospitality in contemporary art. The installation is literally at the threshold between lobby and gallery, cleansing the palate before and after the consumption of the Smart’s exhibitions. “Uppers and Downers” successfully frames and critiques our commoditization and consumption of art, as well as the cheap domesticity we abandon in so seeking art to consume. It reminds us that we are at the gallery searching for something that our domestic lives left unfulfilled, while warning us that we may not yet find what we seek.

Smart Museum of Art, 5550 S. Greenwood Ave. Through December 16. Tuesday-Wednesday, 10am-4pm; Thursday, 10am-8pm; Friday, 10am-4pm; Saturday-Sunday, 11am-5pm. Free. (773)702-0200. smartmuseum.uchicago.edu