The title of the work is based on an essay, Ornament and Crime written in 1908 by the influential “modern” Austrian architect Adolf Loos. Loos proclaims, “The evolution of culture marches with the elimination of ornament from useful objects.” Loos’s “passion for smooth and precious surfaces” informs a philosophy that ornamentation causes objects to go out of style and thus become obsolete. To him, it was a crime to waste the resources needed to add ornamentation, when the ornamentation would cause the object to soon go out of vogue. Loos introduced a sense of the “immorality” of ornament, describing it as “degenerate” and criminal, its elimination as necessary for regulating modern society. His writings laid the groundwork for the later ideology of the Bauhaus and modern architecture.
The work itself is an experiment in the act of collecting and curating as a mode of artistic expression. The two-part, site-specific, multi-media tableau exploits the capacity of objects to evoke an abstract narrative through a complex web of associations. Upon entering the installation, the viewer is greeted with the comfort of a minimally appointed salon, featuring a small selection of art objects. Further inspection of the installation reveals a second room (of a decidedly different “character”) outfitted with traces of an alternate reality. The work complicates the perceived value of art in the face of extreme systematic poverty, urban blight and city-wide violent street crime by drawing into sharp contrast artifacts from two parallel and distinct economic systems.
The complexity is found in the specific detail the artist developed for the project, an artistic sensibility that allows layers of social and political commentary to permeate within a uniquely contemplative space. The highly attenuated selection of objects allows viewers to locate themselves within the contradictions and social inequities caused by the ideological forces dominating our urban culture. Society is plagued by an ever-widening class stratification, the spectre of the military-industrial prison complex, the futile and costly war on drugs, all symptoms of the dysfunctional modern global capitalist reality. The work presents a platform to satirize, demystify, and resist these forces by revealing them as constructed realities or at the very least, acknowledging their shadowy presence.
By Brandon Alvendia, featuring the work of Conrad Bakker, Pamela Fraser, Michelle Grabner, Joe Grimm, Lucy Mackenzie, David Shrigley and Anonymous.