A Dadaist masterpiece.
This brilliant, unsettling work of contemporary installation art sets itself firmly within the Dadaist and neo-Dadaist tradition. With its blind alleys, impossible turns, and trajectories that lead nowhere, it echoes the functionless functionality of Meret Oppenheim’s “Fur-Lined Teacup,” Marcel Duchamp’s “Impossible Bed,” and, more recently, Jacques Carelman’s “Coffeepot for Masochists.” The influence of M.C. Escher on the piece is undeniable as well. Traffic patterns mysteriously blend from opposite directions; narrow passages twist in on themselves; and the piece as a whole seems to contain and entrap itself in a way that appears to be physically impossible.
Yet while “Ninth and Bryant Parking Garage” makes no attempt to conceal these classic influences, it nevertheless escapes being derivative. Both the gargantuan scale of the installation and its interactive nature give it a forcefully penetrative quality that differs significantly from smaller works of Dadaist and neo-Dadaist sculpture (which one can, after all, turn one’s back on). Once engaged with this unique work, it becomes virtually impossible to distance one’s self from it emotionally, or even physically. This quality is experienced in the details of the piece as well as in its massive scale. We particularly see it in the confusing and labyrinthine “exits” — indistinguishable from the “entrances” and even co-existent with them — compelling the participant’s awareness, not merely of the impossibility of escape, but of the absurdity of even contemplating it.
More significantly, the fact that the piece functions — although barely — as an actual parking garage merely serves to highlight the more disturbing aspects of the work. Poised on the liminal region between function and non-function, it forges a connection between creator and audience that is interactive and yet singularly hostile. Unlike typical artwork which attempts to create a bond of understanding and insight between artist and viewer, “Ninth and Bryant Parking Garage” seeks to entice and enfold the audience members, only to frustrate and alienate them. It is a self-contained paradox, a connection which seeks only to sever itself.
The location of the installation in a literal urban shopping center brilliantly underscores this contradiction. The dreamlike — or rather, nightmarish — qualities of the work are thrown into sharp relief when one contemplates this juxtaposition. One wishes to accomplish simple tasks of survival or comfort: buying towels, or a coffee maker, or even merely bread and milk. And yet the “parking garage,” a construct ostensibly designed to facilitate these tasks, instead thwarts the participant at every turn, and tasks which should connect one with the warp and weft of one’s life instead become distancing and enervating. The audience participates in the work, even becomes one with it, and yet is entirely at its mercy. It is a vivid, haunting metaphor for modern civilization and its self-negating contradictions.
“Ninth and Bryant Parking Garage” is located off of Ninth Street between Bryant and Brannan, adjacent to Trader Joe’s and Bed Bath and Beyond, in San Francisco. The installation is scheduled for an indefinite run.