The House That Art Built


Contemporary superstar Do Ho Suh%26#8217;s remarkable miniature house installation %26#8212; on view at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, this past winter %26#8212; will be remembered as one of the most astonishing sights of the decade.

Image: Christine Starkman, Do Ho Suh
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Museum trustees to schoolchildren, even a group of Buddhist monks and 40,000 more were mesmerized by the Lilliputian domestic scenario, exquisitely rendered with meticulous precision and in remarkable detail, when Fallen Star 1/5 opened at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, last November. Part of the traveling exhibition %26#8220;Your Bright Future: 12 Contemporary Artists from Korea,%26#8221; this work stole the show when it was installed at the entrance of the Upper Brown Pavilion in the Caroline Wiess Law Building. Part dollhouse, part contemporary art tour de force, the multi-part sculpture mesmerized museum-goers with its extraordinary verisimilitude featuring, among its inventory: a kitchen stocked with holiday trimmings, complete with a dressed turkey, alongside prosaic condiments such as a jar of olives and a Heinz Tomato Ketchup bottle; cabinets loaded with an arsenal of cleaning supplies including a box of Tide; a breakfast nook where an open laptop awaited its owner; color pencils strewn across a desk, while a completed drawing rested nearby; a library bearing leather-bound volumes, plus a paperback guide to beginning French that had been taken off the shelf; a pair of golden mules standing guard against a white-painted bedstead; in a another bedroom, riotous red wallpaper serving as a backdrop for a four-poster bed; and a suite of blue Delft plates adorning a wainscoted wall near a Queen Anne dining chair %26#8212; all of this based on actual household furnishings, measured and then recreated in exacting 1-to-5 scale.

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What was the story and who was the talent behind this amazing mise-en-sc%26#232;ne? Created by Korean-born, internationally exhibited Do Ho Suh, who maintains studios in both Seoul and New York, the 2008-2009 work of art referenced the collision of a traditional Korean home of Suh%26#8217;s childhood with an apartment recreated from the artist%26#8217;s days as a grad student at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence. While the former featured a modest single-story, 18th-century scholar%26#8217;s dwelling formed from brick topped by clay roof tiles, the latter starred an imposing 19th-century home carved into rental units, which included its creator%26#8217;s former apartment/studio. And it was this American 1800s-era structure and its contents that captivated MFAH exhibition-goers, as they looked on as astonished voyeurs.

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Co-organized by both the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (where it opened) and the MFAH, %26#8220;Your Bright Future%26#8221; bore a surprise in its Houston incarnation when exhibition co-curator, the MFAH%26#8217;s Christine Starkman, discovered that Suh had decided to open up Fallen Star 1/5 to reveal the interiors shown here, which were not seen by L.A. audiences.

Assiduously handcrafted by the sculptor and/or his team of studio assistants%26nbsp; %26#8212; who even fabricated tiny working light bulbs and utilized a micro kiln to cast miniature porcelain plates %26#8212; the theatrical installation bridged East and West, art and design, the present, past and the future in ways that were both enchanting and poignant.

Stay tuned for Do Ho Suh%26#8217;s next MFAH endeavor, Portal Project, a permanent, site-specific commission for the museum%26#8217;s Arts of Korea Galleries, unveiling winter 2010 %26#8211; 2011.
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For more pictures of the house, click on 'launch slideshow' above.

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