In late 2012, after her partner Patty died from brain cancer, Glenda, the owner of a two-story house in Los Angeles’ Glassell Park, couldn’t pay her oversized mortgage and, like many un-bailed-out Americans, walked away from her home. Shortly after this Glenda’s neighbor, Olga Koumoundouros, herself facing suffocating mortgage payments, decided to put the unoccupied house to good use, turning it into a studio as part of a kind of self-assigned residency.
Instead of letting the house fall into disrepair, Koumoundouros decided to make it into something sparkling and beautiful. Taking her neighbor’s name as a jumping off point, she transformed the house’s interior into a domestic Land of OZ, re-arranging and altering the previous owner’s leftover possessions and spray-painting each room with a meandering rainbow. She then made the house even more conspicuous, painting the stuccoed exterior a gleaming gold, covering the roof with a similarly golden tarp. Koumoundouros titled this impressive makeover “A Notorious Possession” and invited the public see her work, transforming the otherwise “valueless” property into a productive venue for difficult conversations about public art practices, legal and economic justice, and the “American Dream.” Quickly Koumoundouros’ project gained attention from local news outlets as well as artists and activists who shared the artist’s critique of the housing crisis. Eventually the LAPD and Bourbon Holdings LLC, the corporation claiming ownership of the property, evicted Koumoundouros.
Earlier this month the artist transported select objects and documentation from “A Notorious Possession” to “Possessed by Glint and Dreams,” her solo show at Susanne Vielmetter gallery. Some works make the transition; others don't migrate so well.
Unfortunately pieces like “Flat Screen,” address Koumoundouros’ overarching subject in an unconvincing manner. This assemblage consists of a cast TV covered with stuff like a Scrabble board and pieces, bottlecaps and glitter, sealed to the work with pink resins. Hung on the wall like a painting, the work avoids a scathing critique of the systems of inequality that caused its constituent parts to be left behind, and instead aestheticizes this abandonment. While similar ways of working inspired a discussion about ownership and mirrored lives in situ in Glassell Park, here in the cavernous gallery the transplanted formalism, with nods to AbEx precedents, proves a distraction from more pressing issues.
On the flip side, Koumoundouros’ most compelling work uses the gallery as a reflective environment to discuss the original project’s lasting critique. To this effect a series of small color photographs documenting “A Notorious Possession” is particularly strong, addressing the artist’s exploration of the house as site and subject while also obliquely questioning how the project can be consumed as artwork, with documentation standing in for “being there.” Equally impressive is Koumoundouros’ re-installation of the golden roof tarp from the original house. In the gallery the artist turns this shelter upside down as if it were falling from the sky, creating a palpable uneasiness, a feeling of impending doom. While this metaphor pales in comparison to the real problems facing many caught up in the housing crisis and economic collapse that still surrounds us today, Koumoundouros’ work, especially her intervention into an abandoned, unused property can and should be viewed as a rallying cry urging us to transform neglect into art, bank-owned into people-owned, foreclosed into occupied.