Tiravanija responded to Glenstone’s immaculateness with spray paint, construction materials and soup pots. He removed some of the main building’s doors and windows, walled off part of the space with cinder blocks, and stenciled words on the walls. This year, the artist served curry at his exhibition in the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. At Glenstone, he’s offering soup (and, occasionally, tacos made with pork slow-roasted in an earthen pit).
He has also turned part of the space into a T-shirt silk-screening shop, where visitors can buy such wearable slogans as “Asians Must Eat Rice,” “Rich Bastards Beware” and “Angst essen Seele auf.” The latter is the show’s title in German, which is apt, since Tiravanija borrowed it from the title of a 1974 film by Munich-based director Rainer Werner Fassbinder, who died in 1982.
Because it brings symbolic openness to a cloistered location, “Fear” might seem designed explicitly for Glenstone. In fact, it’s a reconstruction of an installation Tiravanija did in Manhattan in 2011. (The piece is now owned by Glenstone, which was established by Mitchell Rales and his wife, Emily Wei Rales, museum’s director and chief curator.) While this presentation isn’t identical to the original, the soup kitchen, pork pit, T-shirt shop, and removed doors and windows — though not the cinder blocks — were all features of the 2011 version.
So is “Fear’s” show-within-a-show, a reconstruction of Tiravanija’s initial effort for New York art dealer Gavin Brown. First mounted in 1994, when Brown had a much smaller space than the converted garage that hosted the 2011 installation, the exhibition is an array of everyday objects replicated in chrome. Some of the items refer to the artist’s life, but others are copies of works by Andy Warhol. These include a Brillo box, another commonplace thing, but one now associated as much with pop art as with scrubbing pans.
At Glenstone, the 3-D likeness of Brown’s tiny early-’90s gallery sits in a larger room that’s mostly empty. Nearby are four artworks by the late Gordon Matta-Clark, selected by Tiravanija from Glenstone’s collection. Still, the space functions principally as a backdrop for human activity, not a showplace for art.
As the T-shirt mottoes and restaged 1994 show indicate, Tiravanija’s work is partly a form of autobiography. It just so happens that the artist’s life story is a model of contemporary globalization. The son of a Thai diplomat, Tiravanija was born in Argentina and has lived many places since, now spending his time in Berlin, New York City and Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand. He has also lived in Mexico, where he picked up the pit-roasting technique.
Perhaps as an antidote to his work’s self-centeredness, Tiravanija cedes parts of his shows to others. In addition to featuring the simulated Warhols and actual Matta-Clarks, the artist has offered the gallery walls to area graffiti artists. By the time “Fear” closes, the handful of words Tiravanija spray-painted on the white expanses should be overwhelmed by many others. (The first graffiti artist’s visit took place on Oct. 25; the next one is scheduled for Nov. 18.)
“I like the idea of people taking it over,” said Tiravanija at a preview of the show.
There’s implied violence to Tiravanija’s Glenstone intervention, even if the vestiges of it are orderly: Near the main entrance, wads of blue masking tape used to make the graffiti are piled neatly near the dislocated doors, which are leaning tidily against the wall. The destructiveness should increase at “Fear’s” culminating event. Tiravanija declined to reveal much about the as-yet-unscheduled finale, but acknowledged that “it will involve jackhammers.”
Their mechanical din will be incongruous in Glenstone’s hushed gallery. But soon quiet will return to the gently sloping hills. Walking back to the parking lot (or the bus stop), a visitor might reflect on Tiravanija’s assault on Glenstone. And decide that it didn’t really transform the temple at all.
Rirkrit Tiravanija: Fear Eats the Soul
Dates: Through early 2020.