Living Spaces: When a House Becomes a Piece of Art

Olga Koumoundouros transforms an Altadena home slated for demolition into a mini-museum where the building itself is the central work of art.

A gallerist’s home typically displays artwork but Suzanne and Jost Vielmetter’s Altadena pad is the art in Olga Koumoundouros exhibition, We made life here for a little while. Located at 495 Alameda Street, the house, which is slated for demolition later this month, is filled with clay sculptures, paintings on the fixtures, and cuts in the walls. It’s Koumoundouros’ stock in trade, reimagining homes as interactive sculptures that comment on the economic crisis wrought by predatory lending and unchecked consumerism. You know what they say, home is where the art is.

Using the Vielmetters’ home as her muse, she used clay to create “shadows” where people once lived; there are impressions of people leaning against walls, people curled up on beds, and people sprawled against the fireplace. In the negative space of the sculptures, one can imagine the outline of a body in various positions, a reversal of the ash-covered bodies found in the aftermath of Mt. Vesuvius. The sculptural pieces are like ghosts, reflecting the homelife of the Vielmetter family’s 13 years in the space.  Portions of the wall are also excised, revealing the wooden beams holding up the structure as a sort of architectural autopsy exposing the bones of the structure. Like Gordon Matta Clark, who often cut away large portions of edifices as a visual interruption of an architect’s design, Koumoundouros breaks down expectation of how people interact with the places where they live and work.

The installation is an extension of Koumoundouros’ exploration of living spaces. Last year she created artwork inside a foreclosed home across the street from her Glassell Park house. She and her partner were having trouble paying their own mortgage and considered squatting in the house while renting out their own. Instead, she created art pieces inside the building. When it was finally bought, Koumoundouros fought and win rights to the building, claiming the structure was no longer just a home; it was a sculptural. Reflecting and documenting life in post-recession California, Koumoundouros captures the mythos and realities of home ownership while exploring the fracturing of the American dream.  

➸ The show closed on Sunday but tours are available by appointment until the house’s demolition in December or early 2014.