Hotel Lobby, West Loop

Valerie Hegarty

Coated with pasted, painted, and torn layers of paper, Valerie Hegarty’s Hotel Lobby, West Loop shifts and blends Gallery 400 into the site of a gutted hotel lobby. Gesturing toward recent waves of renovation, demolition, and erasure, Hegarty’s installation examines the conjunction of the utopian white cube gallery and the realities of present-day urban transformation.

The constructed gutted hotel lobby answers a desire to locate a lost history. The reverse process undertaken in the gallery—where layers of paper were added (pasted to the walls and floor with wallpaper paste), painted, and then torn back—leaves heavy traces of labor that appears both as old marks of time and the recent disarray of renovation/demolition. The marks on the wall and floor that indicate missing architectural components speak on different levels about loss and absence. The viewer enters the piece as if he/she were walking into a painting. The confusing effect of the simulation and the haunted look of the surfaces elicit uncanny feelings in the viewer, as the gallery’s appearance suggests that the recent past has been resurrected. 

Just as cities such as Chicago underwent intense waves of gentrification, the pristine gallery walls echo utopian architecture’s dream of a blank slate and urbanism’s erasure of the past in the name of progress. The timing could not be better for Hotel Lobby, West Loop, as Gallery 400 begins a major year-long renovation, a few weeks after the show opens. At the end of the show, Hotel Lobby, West Loop will be torn down, along with the gallery walls, only to be replaced with its ultra-new, ultra-white counterparts.

Laurel Gitlen, who has written for the American Federation of Arts, New York, said of Hegarty’s installation:

While ruins can elicit a sense of longing, Hotel Lobby taints viewers’ nostalgia with violence, morbidity, and trickery. Further, a simplification of materials and the substitution of artifice for time evacuates “authenticity” from the artifact and threatens the viewer’s sentimentality for the past. Perhaps more importantly, Hegarty’s process equates decay with renovation, and hence suggests that both are merely surface treatments that hide the “real” stuff behind. Through nostalgia, a decrepit space can be venerated as an edifice that has endured the test of time, or as an example of the sentiment “they don’t build them like they used to.” Renovations and new constructions, on the other hand, are suspect, and considered shoddy and superficial in relation to the depth and solidity of ruins. (Roman coliseums and aqueducts are a case in point for the heft and substantiality of ruins). In Hegarty’s work, architecture is treated more like a series of veils that float over pristine white gallery walls that also belie a sense of gravity.

Hegarty has exhibited at the Berkeley Art Center; Middlebury College Museum of Art, Middlebury, VT; and the Modest Contemporary Art Gallery, Chicago. She graduated with an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she received a Trustee Scholarship and a John Quincy Adams Fellowship.

Hotel Lobby, West Loop was commissioned as one of the projects in the 2002 At the Edge: Innovative Art in Chicago series.

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