Behre: How long will Charleston’s narrowest single-family home survive? You can help decide. | Comment
I believe that our best artistic works – be it architecture, music, painting, sculpture – eventually become so over time.
What is popular today may not be popular tomorrow. Classical works are not classic because of what people thought when the works debuted, but because they are interesting or beautiful or popular (or a mixture of all of these) enough for new generations to value them. , at least enough to pass them on to new generations.
Of course, even the classics evolve over time, and that’s part of their intrigue and appeal, too. The famous sculpture Venus de Milo lost her arms a long time ago but can still captivate.
One work that has survived 30 years – and evolved over that time – is “America Street”, also known as “House of the Future”, an architectural and artistic creation straddling America and Reid on the East Side of Charleston.
It is one of the few surviving among the 18 in situ art installations built for the exhibition “Places with a Past” at the 1991 Spoleto Festival. (The sculpture by Ronald Jones in the vestibule of Mother Emanuel Church is the only other.) The exhibit was one of the festival’s most innovative and accessible offerings, though it also led to an unfortunate backlash that almost ended Spoleto.
Of course, the festival has survived, as has the ‘House of the Future’, at least until now. But more people may need to step up their efforts if this is to last another 30 years (or more).
I hope so.
Created by New York artist David Hammons with local building contractor Albert Alston, the house is a stimulating meditation on the status of African Americans in Charleston at the turn of the 20th century. Its provocative and narrow width, only around 8 feet, made it not only uninhabitable, but also a dramatic symbol of the more marginal housing that many African Americans were forced to rely on. But the design of the house also reflects Charleston, from its side plaza to its familiar materials to its north side manners (few or no windows on the opposite side instead).
Alston constructed it from scrap metal he accumulated during his work on other Charleston homes, and it is in part intended to serve as a teaching tool for the town’s building methods (des smaller plates note the different materials). Its coloring and detailing has changed a bit over the years, with Alston’s frequent maintenance work, but it also remains remarkably the same. Its original mixed metal, slate and shingle roof survives, as does a plaque explaining how the artwork was fashioned with the help of local residents as it also attempted to return something to them.
The Thin House is only half of the overall artwork also known as âAmerica’s Streetâ. Catty-corner is a small park with a billboard depicting local African-American students looking up (it replaced a billboard advertising cigarettes). “Their focused gaze took on a new meaning of hopeful determination when Hammonds placed a modified American flag in their projected line of sight,” the plaque notes.
On this north side is also painted a provocative statement: “The African-American has become the heir to the myths that it is better to be poor than rich, lower class rather than middle or upper, easy-going rather than industrious, extravagant. rather than thrifty. and athletic rather than academic. It was a provocative statement when it was first painted in 1991 and only appears more so today, as society takes a closer look at the historical inequalities that have led to the lingering disparities between blacks and blacks. Whites.
Those who walk past the house today, however, may see another sign of tension. In fact, several signs, each one reading: “This installation is not to be used in publications without the consent of the owner.” Alston says he put the signs up because he doesn’t want anyone to use his picture to fill his own pocket, at least without speaking to him. It’s just a way he tries to maintain and defend what he thinks is Charleston’s most important work of art.
âThis is the story to be told. This is the story they don’t tell, âhe said. âI don’t know if they really know the importance of what the play really means or what the play represents. … It is the most living work of art in the world. You look at it from one side, I look at it from the other side, and another person looks at it from the other side.
Hopefully we’ll all keep watching it, and that it stays there to watch it – and learn from it.
Reach Robert BÃ©hrÃ© at 937-5771 or [email protected]