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Villa Terrace Exhibit Lets the Walls Speak for Themselves

Why Wallpaper? — Why Not

Nov. 29, 2016
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The question “why wallpaper?” may seem hopelessly rhetorical but the exhibition of this name at the Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum is by no means a pedantic answer.

The exhibition notes that wallpaper was invented in the 16th century “as an inexpensive method of interior decoration,” certainly less pricey than elaborate tapestries. But as for the history of the medium, exhibition organizers Edward Styles and Jenille Junco leave it at that and let six contemporary designers of wallpaper—and their work—speak for themselves.

Francesco Simeti’s dense patterns are swirls of color and clouds, such as his design proof for Dusk for Maharam. The massive piece is overwhelming. So much is packed together, it is like confronting a tightly built hillside in a global metropolis. Examining the details, you realize that this landscape is a disparate collage of things. A tropical hut lies beneath a felled palm tree. There are also an all-night diner, neon casinos and empty boulevards. In between these photographic elements are graphics and linear designs. There is also a lonesome figure who seems to have wandered out of a traditional Chinese painting. It is dense and emphasizes the mystery of the drawn world, so different from the real one.

Christine Tarkowski wants to cover the real world in wallpaper in a big way. Literally. Her photographs show skyscrapers and even a nuclear submarine covered in patterning, bringing them into the realm of the domestic. Or as she puts it, “to use domestication in a very different way, or very national way, what would it be like if I were to domesticate power?” Long wallpaper samples are shown with the photographs. The most unnerving one looks like it has been endlessly shot up with 9mm rounds of ammunition. The accompanying photograph shows a lounging person in front of a small black-and-white TV, the old-fashioned kind with rabbit ears. Those details are so relaxed, even nostalgic, but the room decorated with wallpaper pierced by bullet holes thunks down into the present, a reminder of war zones where the damage is not decoration. 

Why Wallpaper? continues through Jan. 29 at Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum, 2220 N. Terrace Ave.

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