Making art out of the housing crisis


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    "Dream Home Resource Center" is an exhibit by artist Olga Koumoundouros, currently on view at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles.

    - Brian Forrest

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    To enter the installation, guests walk through a set of double doors that the artist reclaimed from a McMansion in Orange County.

    - Marianne Williams

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    An unusual aspect of the exhibit includes a rotating cast of experts who sit in the center kiosk and answer questions about housing for guests to the museum.

    - Marianne Williams

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    The artist (center) talks to visitors of the exhibit.

    - Marianne Williams

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    A view of the exhibition from the entry way of the Hammer Museum. Located in the first floor lobby, the exhibit is the only piece in the museum that is free and open to the public.

    - Brian Forrest

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    A timeline of housing in 20th century America wraps around much of the room. Koumoundouros put together a patchwork of images, factoids, and personal narratives to tell the story of how the housing crisis began, and where we are today.

    - Marianne Williams

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    At the center kiosk, guests can also fill out forms to share how they feel about their home and housing in American in general. The forms look eerily similar to a mortgage document.

    - Marianne Williams

Koumoundouros found reclaimed McMansion doors from a vendor, then repainted them, adding door handles she made out of casts of her elbows, and an American-themed padlock.

Guests to the museum find something unusual for an art exhibit: Actual information on the housing market.

For many Americans, thinking about housing is really thinking about money and cost: What house can I afford to buy? Will it be worth more in 10 years? Should I take out a home equity loan?

But for artist Olga Koumoundouros, we might want to remember the original purpose of all those piles of bricks: "A house is a structure that provides shelter and can give us psychological security and a respite from all of our daily struggles."

How housing became a commodity -- and what ultimately led to the housing crisis in America -- is the theme of a new work of art by Koumoundouros. It's on view at the Hammer Museum, and is called the "Dream Home Resource Center."

But it might not be what you typically think of as art.

Two giant doors enclose the exhibit. They once belonged to a McMansion in nearby Orange County, but have since been repainted in rainbow colors by Koumoundouros. Inside the clear glass walls, it's actually a pretty white spare room -- with a few striking differences. To the left, a giant whiteboard is updated weekly with statistics on the economy -- from the most recent homeless population numbers to news about the Detroit bankruptcy filing. Wrapping around the rest of the room: a rainbow timeline following different threads, all piecing together what housing looks like in America today.

The most unusual aspect of the exhibit sits dead center in the room: An informational booth. Here, the artist curated a number of guests -- from real estate brokers to homeless rights activists.

"I brought in people who have different narratives," she says. "The reason why I've done that deliberately is because they all fill out the picture of our housing situation."

The idea for the exhibit came from Koumoundouros' own life: A few years back, she and her partner at the time found themselves underwater on their home.

"There was a moment on my block when there were five empty houses," she adds. "It just felt like a weird ghost town. We ended up buying a house the same week as he got laid off from his job as an architect, so we're almost a case study of the whole Southern California boom -- which floated him, and then let us down."

As for what she wants visitors to get out of the exhibit, Koumoundouros just hopes it will help them think about -- even question -- how much our economy is based on the housing market.

"Ownership and consumption are linked to how much our economy is consumed based," she argues. "[This view of housing] is so specifically American. And I love digging that out, and I think questioning it is part of maybe a shift."

The exhibit runs through August 18th.

About the author

Lizzie O'Leary is the new host of Marketplace Weekend.

Koumoundouros found reclaimed McMansion doors from a vendor, then repainted them, adding door handles she made out of casts of her elbows, and an American-themed padlock.

Guests to the museum find something unusual for an art exhibit: Actual information on the housing market.

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