If you’ve ever fantasized about your dream home, you might have conjured up a place like the Courtyard House. Glass-walled and modernist, the house looks out onto dense greenery while also bringing it indoors via an atrium centered in the open-plan space. On the property, lush gardens of dahlias and lilies end in a two-person studio. A narrow path sheltered by a canopy of grapevines winds toward the Pudding River and further trails. I’m told there’s even a secret swimming hole. It’s all hidden in a small, unassuming neighborhood in Aurora, Oregon, known for its antiquing and historic buildings.
The house was designed by NO ARCHITECTURE’s Andrew Heid for his parents and is now occupied by the retired couple. It is currently home to Bitter Cherry, Bleeding Heart, a group exhibition curated by Fourteen30 Contemporary’s Jeanine Jablonski. Artworks are dispersed throughout the Courtyard House and integrate with the space in various ways. Each of the displayed artists (Joanna Bloom, Iván Carmona, Melanie Flood, John Houck, Jessica Jackson Hutchins, Rainen Knecht, Chris Johanson, Elizabeth Malaska, Lynne Woods Turner, and Maya Vivas) lives and works in Oregon. Featuring Oregon-based artists in a home that so deftly honors the natural beauty of the area makes perfect sense. The exhibition’s strength, though, is in the works themselves. Each artist’s piece feels like a response to its unique surroundings, whether referencing the natural world outside the Courtyard House, the body moving through the living space, or the concrete home within which the artwork lives.
Entering the home, an atrium to my right glitters with dappled light from above. Within the glass walls, Jessica Jackson Hutchins’s ceramic sculpture, Fountain, looks heavy yet dynamic on a gray pedestal. Moving through each connected room in the house, I notice that artworks are evenly scattered, some feeling so intrinsic to the space that I almost pass them by.
The exhibition centers paintings, wall sculptures, and freestanding sculptures. I notice a certain rhythm emerging from the works—Joanna Bloom’s earthy ceramic trophies and chalices; Rainen Knecht’s focus on the body; John Houck and Melanie Flood’s depictions of fruit. These works feel deeply reverent of the natural world and human experience, much like the house itself. Conversely, Lynne Woods Turner’s painting and Iván Carmona’s sculpture emphasize form through abstraction. They don’t suggest nature but instead resonate with the intentional design and concrete structure of the Courtyard House.
A few large-scale paintings, namely Rainen Knecht’s The Wolf’s Eyelash and Elizabeth Malaska’s Couple, stand out as fine-art-within-a-domestic-space, as do Jessica Jackson Hutchins’s bulbous sculptures. The other artists’ pieces integrate more fully into the domestic realm. Neither are necessarily negative distinctions, but they do cause me to stop and ponder their differences. Maya Vivas and Iván Carmona’s smaller ceramic works feel more at home on the walls and tabletops where they are installed. Is the difference as simple as size?
I think there’s a depth of inquiry within Knecht, Malaska, and Jackson Hutchins’s works that’s unexpected inside a home. The stop-and-stare experience of fine art feels somehow out of place here, but I wonder if that’s my bias to overcome. Perhaps there’s also something intangible about how I interact with art in a gallery space that clashes with my more informal sense of home. We’re used to gallery spaces granting artworks an automatic elevation, a preciousness. Yet, conceivably, artwork displayed in a home is even more cherished.
This is also not to say that the artists working in small sculpture, like Maya Vivas, Joanna Bloom, and Iván Carmona, aren’t making “fine art.” Rather, their work feels comfortable in motion, living in many kinds of spaces. Joanna Bloom, in particular, straddles the line expertly with sculptures that feel almost utilitarian, but not quite. She makes trophies and chalices, but they’re art, first.
A major strength of the exhibition is the lack of compromise in the Courtyard House. Jablonski hasn’t attempted to hide the fact that real people live, sleep, and do all of their daily human activities in this space. I note evidence of their lives everywhere. There are tissue boxes and table lamps, Pokemon figurines and half-built Lego structures. Next to Chris Johanson’s Backwards painting, a child’s body systems chart is covered in smiling organs. As a result, Johanson’s painting, already textural and bright, feels even more alive.
By installing artworks in each of the house’s rooms, the exhibition requires the viewer to pass through foreign, intimate spaces like bedrooms. This installation choice is part of Bitter Cherry, Bleeding Heart’s powerful site-specificity. The artworks could have all been installed in the living room, or the foyer—somewhere a little more impersonal. By dispersing them, the artworks begin to unfold the story of the house, and vice versa.
Jablonski and the exhibiting artists have achieved something that feels timely and essential with Bitter Cherry, Bleeding Heart. This is an optimal era for experimentation with ways of seeing art. Perhaps we already knew that art doesn’t need a white-box gallery to be successful, but this exhibition reminds us that domesticity is not a dirty word. Art can thrive in homes. Yes, it helps when said home is as chic as the Courtyard House, but Bitter Cherry, Bleeding Heart still plants the seed for further experimentation with exhibitions in living spaces. I’m eager to see where this leads.
Bitter Cherry, Bleeding Heart is on view at the Courtyard House in Aurora, Oregon until August 15, 2021.