Much of the world’s art is inaccessible to “ordinary” people. For every piece on display in a museum, a hundred others are hidden in vaults. A recent survey of major museums found that most of Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings are in storage and that, of 53 Egon Schiele drawings, none are on display at the seven museums that hold them. There are often good reasons for this imbalance—lack of space, preserving fragile works, research purposes. But on the other hand, institutions that would rather be known as contributors to public life also end up acting as tools for enriching their founders and donors with sizable tax breaks. Many millions of dollars’ worth of art is also housed in private collections large and small. Their key pieces by important names are carted out for major exhibitions and retrospectives, then shuttled back to accrue value as assets and to decorate the homes of the wealthy.
The Maid, a video by Carissa Rodriguez, on view at SculptureCenter in the New York City borough of Queens until April 2, takes the viewer through the “lives” of some artworks so housed. Beginning with slow, tracking drone shots reminiscent of a music-video opening, the camera approaches various homes—a mansion in Los Angeles, a townhouse on New York’s Upper East Side, both surrounded by lush greenery—then zooms in through a window. After panning across rooms, like a realtor’s gaze, and capturing the pieces of contemporary art on the walls—a series of uncharacteristically orange On Kawara date paintings, for example, light up with sunshine—the camera settles into a meditative stillness.
The video’s main focus is a collection of sculptures by Sherrie Levine, Crystal Newborn (1993) and Black Newborn (1994), which were modeled after the bronze and marble sculptures by the early-20th-century Romanian artist Constantin Brâncuși. The Newborns are an edition of 12 in each colorway, the two dozen total offering a sly comment on the reproducibility of an original—an allusion to Brâncuși, of course, but also to Marcel Duchamp’s readymades. One imagines them at the market, nestled together like two cartons of eggs.
Made of sandblasted glass, the Newborns are so sleek and seamless that, at first glance, on video, they can appear to be digitally rendered. One rests on a table with a polish so high that the sculpture is perfectly reflected upside down. One lives in a quiet home where small blond children read aloud in French. One sits next to a photograph of Bill and Hillary Clinton grinning. Each is perfectly balanced. Each has a glowing magnetism. The camera pans slowly around each piece, considering the heavy-looking ovoids, sometimes dipping below the surface of a table as though it were being submerged underwater, rising to glimpse the sculpture’s other side.
The warm instrumental version of Frank Ocean’s “White Ferrari” gradually becomes more prominent in the background, lending the work an intimate, evocative feeling, and conjuring the lyrics without actually featuring them: “Bad luck to talk on these rides…” The camera is so steady, and the surroundings so quiet, that we are given the inescapable feeling of being voyeurs in a series of homes we will never live in.