Arts Warehouse’s “Dwelling” Explores the Two Americas

Luis Garcia Nerey’s installation “Dwelling,” on display now at Arts Warehouse, is comprised of two squat houses divided by a fence. The home on the right is pure storybook suburbia, the sort of dwelling a first-grader would conceive when asked to draw a “house”: Lily-white wooden exterior, clean slanted roof, A/C vent in the back, curtains visible through the windows. There’s a welcome mat outside the front door, above which is mounted elegant covered light for nocturnal comfort, all resting a bed of gleaming gravel.

All photos by Crystal Pearl

The house on the left is less fortunate. Esoteric graffiti stamps the yellowing exterior, plywood covers the doors and windows, unstable tarp clings to the roof. A pair of wooden slabs, splintery and tetanal with exposed nails, rest on the rooftop, as abandoned as the property itself. Above the door, the light bulb is bare. The home sits, rotting, on a patch of rocky mud.

Architecturally, the houses are identical—or at least they started out that way. Sociologically, they are side by side and worlds apart. The chasm between them is all too familiar. Few cities are immune to contrasts exactly like “Dwelling:” Nerey’s nutshell evocation of income inequality in the 21st century could be Flint or Chicago, or it could be West Palm Beach or Miami.

Nerey, a Cuban-born artist residing in Miami, built this site-specific exhibition at Arts Warehouse; it will only exist until its closing date of Nov. 10. According to the wall text, Nerey “constructs an environment that meditates on the connections and separations formed between home, community and development.” There is a mention of Nerey’s affinity for Constructionism, which lends the show academic gravitas, but you don’t need to be schooled in art theory to draw relevant conclusions. It’s the sort of exhibition that hits you with the directness of a gut punch, but with implications that linger long after the impact.

In my interpretation, it’s an installation about three things, most prominently economics and the venality of the financial sector. The house on the left, a seemingly permanent reminder of literally broken dreams, exemplifies the subprime mortgage crisis. You ache for its former owners, imagining the humiliating reality of foreclosure: the multiple mortgages, the eviction notices on the door, the furniture on the lawn. Nerey implicates us in the housing market game: By encouraging us to circle the properties and drink in every detail, we become appraisers, approving or dismissing their worth.

But the subtext of “Dwelling” also looks at race, subliminally suggested by the white gravel on the right-hand house and the dark mixture on the left-hand house. Racial divisions further play on our own inherent biases, prompting uncomfortable assumptions. It’s not so much that the house on the right seems the exclusive domain of Caucasians, but that the house on left, with its “urban” association of graffiti, leads us to project melanin on its onetime inhabitants.

Finally, a commentary about borders and protectionism lurks around the exhibition’s edges. What to make of the harsh wooden fencing bisecting the homes? Was it always there? I extrapolate that the family on the right placed it there to block out the decaying eyesore next door: Out of sight, out of mind. Build the wall.

Yet, tellingly, the fencing is not 100-percent solid. Baseball-sized holes are cut into the posts, serving an inexplicable function, unless you think like a voyeur. Perhaps, when your food delivery arrives cold or your dryer is on the fritz or your DVR malfunctions or some other first-world problem upsets your day, you want to take a gander through the peephole and see how the other half lives.

Then again, Nerey could have intended none of this. The beauty of “Dwelling” is that it’s both simple and mysterious, textual and subtextual, artistry and documentary. And it says as much about us as it does housing, because to some extent, we are where we live. See it while it still stands.

“Dwelling” runs through Nov. 10 at Arts Warehouse, 313 N.E. Third St., Delray Beach. Admission is free. Call 561/330-9614 or visit artswarehouse.org.