By Lauri Firstenberg| December 1, 2009 |
FROM LEFT: Justin Beal inside Paul Rudolph's Modulightor House; Untitled by Beal; Part II by Beal
Having studied both art and architecture, Justin Beal is invested in research, history, the production of both books and objects and in creating a signature brand of highly conscious formalism that is often contradicted, contaminated and anthropomorphized. I collaborated with Beal on site-specific façade work for LAXART as well as a large project for the 2008 California Biennial at the Orange County Museum of Art. His work can be seen in a February group exhibition at Luckman Gallery called “Not Cooperative” and in his second solo exhibition at ACME gallery in the beginning of next year. I spoke with Beal to discuss his most recent work in the studio.
LAURI FIRSTENBERG: You had a solo exhibition last year at ACME in LA entitled “Melamine Everything,” produced a body of new work for the 2008 California Biennial and were a part of a host of group exhibitions from LA to NY to Paris. What are you presently working on? JUSTIN BEAL: I recently finished an article about the American fashion designer Halston and the [late] American architect Paul Rudolph. The article is in a magazine called Matisse, which is published by artists Carter Mull and Jesse Willenbring.
LF:What is it about Halston’s legacy in Rudolph’s Modulightor House that preoccupies you? JB: Over the course of his career Rudolph designed a number of really extravagant Manhattan residences. Unlike the monumental modernist buildings he is known for, the New York interiors remain largely undocumented and conspicuously absent from his published archive. Halston’s townhouse is the exception. A series of magazine articles, anecdotes, snapshots and publicity photos of Halston at home amount to a sort of an informal archive of Rudolph’s interior architecture.
LF:Does this text inform anything you’re working on in your studio? JB: Yes. Rudolph’s work embodied specific tension between a legacy of high modernism and emerging trends of postmodernism that manifest in subtleties of style and material that interest me. The details of these interiors are simultaneously perverse and restrained—bathroom walls that stop short of the ceiling, bathtubs with glass bottoms and hidden windows into bedrooms. It is a very performative space. All of this informs the work I am making in the studio now.
LF: Can you describe the materials and forms in process that reflect the output of this recent body of research? JB: Rudolph had a complicated relationship to material. On the one hand he relied on the gravity of modernist standards like cast concrete and structural glass, while at the same time constantly experimenting with more unconventional materials such as melamine and Plexiglas. He designed precarious Plexiglas furniture for his Modulightor House in New York that has the visual clarity of functionalist design with a completely incongruous feeling of cheap materiality.
LF:How would you say material experimentation and perversity make its way into your own lexicon? JB: Functionalist design is an inherently repressed form of object production. There are rigid conventions in most modern design that tend to suppress emotion or expression in the interest of functionality. The contradictions that arise in Rudolph’s more eccentric details suggest a strategy of addressing that repression. In my own work, I try to exploit the tension between materials to similar effect in an attempt to simultaneously address this sublimated desire and the transgressive potential of the design object in any context.