Back in October, we told you about artist Olga Koumoundouros' A Notorious Possession project, in which she took over a foreclosed home across the street from where she lived and filled it with art that paid tribute to its former residents and meditated on the changing nature of home ownership. The intervention, which touched a populist nerve, went viral. The abandoned house instantly became a hub for art, performance and community organizing around the housing crisis. Although excitement was building, however, everyone involved knew that the project's future was uncertain, given that the artist had no legal ties to the property, whose status was unknown at that time.
Two weeks ago, Koumoundouros opened a new solo show at Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects in Culver City. Titled "Possessed by Glint and Dreams," the show is composed of the artwork that Koumoundouros made in and around the foreclosed home in Glassell Park, along with some new additions and embellishments.
The show loosely recreates the site and continues the narratives that the artist found there. It also represents the culmination of this particular project, which did not come without a bit of a struggle.
At the end of our last story, Koumoundouros had attended the public auction for the property in hopes of gaining some information, only to find the auction abruptly cancelled by an unknown entity. It was later discovered that a company called Bourbon Holdings LLC had made a deal with the delinquent owner, Glenda, purchasing her home for a paltry $51,000. Ten days later, a 24-hour notice to "vacate the premises or face criminal arrest" was posted on the door of the house. At the appointed hour the next day, Bourbon's CEO, Joe Perez, showed up to inspect and take possession of the house, backed up by a few members of the LAPD.
The artist and a few of her friends awaited them. One of the friends recorded the proceedings on video. Some of this footage can be seen in a documentary produced by KCET Artbound, and none of it is pleasant. We see the artists attempting to engage in some friendly conversation with Perez and the officers, explaining that they are making art to address the nation's current foreclosure crisis. They are met with outright hostility from Perez, who obviously thinks they are criminals trying to pull some sort of scam, and scorn from the police officers, who criticize the art and accuse Koumoundouros of feeling exempt from the fiscal responsibilities that the rest of society lives up to. The encounter eventually ends with Koumoundouros agreeing to vacate the premises, knowing she would be jailed if she didn't.
The altercations didn't stop there. Perez proceeded to lob a variety of legal threats against Koumoundouros, claiming that she had damaged the house, maligned his reputation, and deterred potential buyers. He also refused to allow her back onto the property to reclaim her artwork. Luckily, Koumoundouros had the assistance of lawyers Bert Voorhees and York Chang (the latter of whom is also an artist), who wrote letters on her behalf contesting the validity of Perez's claims. They also made use of the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990 (VARA), a statute that provides protection for works of art of recognized stature, to argue for the artist's right to preserve her work. Eventually, Perez relented and allotted a time for Koumoundouros to enter the property and gather her things. He was able to sell the house soon thereafter for $440,000.
The exhibition Koumoundouros has put together is dramatic, thoughtful and often poetic. The first room evokes the exterior of the house and features a suspended recreation of the house's roof, covered in the gold canvases that the artist had installed. There is also a gold garden hose and a gold satellite dish.
The next room represents the house's interior. With the freedom afforded her by the gallery environment, Koumoundouros was able to create an even more Oz-like feeling here: a sofa and a table rest at odd angles and a portion of roof juts through a wall, as if the house had been tossed about by a hurricane. The tabletop features a resin tableau composed of innocuous common objects that have been made to look like a pile of guts. Another tableau has a Scrabble game set floating in swirls of red, pink and brown. Fabric ropes are also strategically hung, recalling the myth of Rapunzel.
Some might see irony in the fact that this project, which began as a critique of commodity culture, is now being sold as a commodity in a gallery. Gallery owner Susanne Vielmetter, however, sees it as more of a homecoming -- the return of the work to an art context, which is as integral to its beginnings as social activism. She also sees the story as being much more complex and multi-layered than a simple critique. "This is not just about the recession and people losing houses," Vielmetter reflects. "It's about an artist who comes from a working class background, got herself a top-level art education, and still can't afford to live. The plight of artists in our society also plays into this."
Vielmetter remarks that while Koumoundouros' work has always dealt with the same themes, this is the first time that it's had a strong public engagement component. Indeed, the most disappointing aspect of the eviction from the house was the cessation of the community activities that had begun to coalesce there.
While Koumoundouros feels that A Notorious Possession has come to a definitive end at this point, she is still looking for opportunities to do performances and other types of events at abandoned houses. She is currently working on another show for the Hammer Museum, opening in June and titled "Dream Home Resource Center", which will deal more specifically with the nature of real estate transactions and may provide an opportunity for an off-site tie-in event.
Olga Koumoundouros' "Possessed by Glint and Dreams" is on view at Susanne Vielmetter through April 10. 6006 Washington Blvd, Culver City, (310) 837-2117. vielmetter.com.