Magazine article Artforum International

Rebecca Chamberlain: JUDI ROTENBERG GALLERY

Magazine article Artforum International

Rebecca Chamberlain: JUDI ROTENBERG GALLERY

Article excerpt

Rebecca Chamberlain's intensely labored, monochromatic ballpoint and litho ink drawings of modernist interiors may seem to fixate on the heroic staging of the relationship between form and function, but they are primarily engaged with capturing the residue of the lives that once animated the structures they depict. Though people are entirely absent, their affective traces permeate the artist's elegant renderings of domestic, administrative, and factory spaces; the effect is that of a missed encounter, as if the spectator has arrived a few moments too late and must reconstruct the departed protagonist's identity from only a handful of scattered clues.

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This notion of belated arrival is evident in the triptych Living Corners Arrangement Screen, 1935-39, 2009. Each panel features as its focal point an unoccupied armchair, surrounded by such accessories as a coffee table with a vase of flowers, a screen, or a lamp. The arrangement of objects may seem inviting, a backdrop for intimacy, but the closely cropped composition, subdued atmosphere, and empty chair create an oppressive mood. Without the body's idiosyncratic presence, these scenes expose the modernist fantasy of a universally replicable personal space as no more than an ideological assertion. As we see in Johnson Wax Factory Screen, 2008 (another triptych), Frank Lloyd Wright's design is similarly unsuited to organic variability. In this temple of streamlined labor and administration, the only signs of life are the odd potted plants left by the missing employees. Next to such actual flora, Wright's dendriform columns--euphemistically called "lily pads"--appear overwhelmingly regimented.

Such appraisals of the gap between modernism's ideals and its material reality have been a staple of recent contemporary art (the work of artists Terence Gowcr, Olaf Nicolai, and Mai-Thu Perret comes to mind). …

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