There are over 20 period rooms tucked inside the Brooklyn Museum. Kitted out with historically accurate furniture, decorations, artwork, textiles, these spaces show visitors what it was like to live in a 17th- century Brooklyn house, occupy an Art Deco Park Avenue study, and lounge in the Rockefeller’s Moorish-style smoking room. Michael Graves’s postmodern pied-a-terre is also part of the collection.
These faithful reproductions of architectural spaces show one side of life in the past—and then there’s Do Ho Suh’s Perfect Home II, a fabric sculpture that looks like an ethereal apparition of a Chelsea apartment.
Hand-sewn from gauzy nylon, Perfect Home II is a 1:1 model of the New York City apartment Suh lived in for nearly two decades. He meticulously measured his rooms (by hand), appliances, cabinets, and fixtures, then recreated them in textiles, which fit over a 600-piece metal frame to create a space that’s somewhere between architecture and artwork.
“The period rooms are these time capsules and they seem very fixed in time; there’s no fluidity,” says Eugenie Tsai, senior curator of contemporary art at the Brooklyn Museum. “[Perfect Home II] isn’t a time capsule, but it encapsulates a certain time in New York City.”
Suh, who is originally from Korea, understands life as movement thorough spaces. He moved into his 500-square-foot apartment in a 19th-century Chelsea row house in 1997, a time before the High Line and before the area became known for tony art galleries and boutiques. Upon moving in, Suh’s landlord told him he could do whatever he wanted to with the space. He used it as a residence and studio.
While living in this apartment, Suh became internationally recognized for his work, which addresses connections between space and memory, and the homesickness immigrants often have. As an artist, Suh frequently travels and his nomadic lifestyle amped up the sentiment. One of Suh’s early works was a textile replica of his family’s home in Korea, which he could pack into a suitcase and take with him wherever he went.
He created Perfect Home II in 2003 to explore how a home is a container for memories. The space is deliberately void of personal belongings and the nondescriptness offers visitors an opportunity to think about their own homes.
“It is at once deeply personal and universal because everyone has some relationship to home and whatever form home takes,” Tsai says. “[Suh] said memories are fragile, and this is quite literally fragile. This idea of memory and home and the way your memories are imprinted in your home is something you begin to think about when you’re walking through it.”
In 2016, Suh’s landlord passed away, and the artist was forced to move after the landlord’s family decided to sell the building. With the increase in property values and rents, it’s unlikely that an artist like Suh could occupy the same space today. In that sense the sculpture preserves not only the apartment, but also the opportunity Chelsea represented to emerging practitioners decades ago. The ephemerality of New York City neighborhoods is perfectly rendered in Suh’s ghostly piece in a way that a faithful period room could never do.
One: Do Ho Suh is on view at the Brooklyn Museum until January 27, 2019. While the piece is on view at all times, visitors may only enter it on the weekends.