March 11, 2009


Brian Tolle, “Levittown”

Brian Tolle is best known for his Irish Hunger Memorial, an extraordinary public commission for Battery Park City that incorporates a reconstructed family cottage dating from the time of the Emerald Isle's infamous potato famine. In his first show at CRG, Tolle again makes reference to domestic architecture, but focuses on more a recent—and more local—example: Levittown, the Long Island housing development, completed in 1951, which became a Stepfordlike exemplar of postwar suburbia.

Here, Tolle transforms the standard Levittown house into soft-sculptural silicone multiples that are too big for dolls but too small for people. Each flaccid box has been paired with a different found object or objects, investing the formerly generic machines-for-living with quirky personality.

In most cases, the objects are suitably mass-produced and domestic. In Nothing but Net, a bright blue house hangs from a basketball hoop, while in Outgrown, a pink-tinted abode partially smothers a stack of old toys. Elsewhere, cookie-cutter homes are draped over a wheelbarrow and an ironing board; one is stuffed through a tire swing. The different colors and distorted shapes echo that temptation to customize, which utopian schemes inevitably provoke.

Occasionally, Tolle extends this allusion in more overtly political directions. Pinko, for example, features a rose-colored house hanging from a flagpole from the former Soviet Union—a neat reference to Cold War paranoia. But the less overt likes of Father Knows Best, in which a mustard-colored house is wrapped around a “salesman sample recliner,” function most effectively as the uncanny totems of perfection perverted.—Michael Wilson