The Brooklyn Museum's second installment of inviting contemporary artists to alter their period rooms does not disappoint with Valerie Hegarty’s contribution. Hegarty, a New York-based artist, brings her characteristic motifs of bright, smashed fruits and destructive black crows to the museum’s previously manicured period rooms. With these motifs she blends her themes of colonialism, manifest destiny, and the myth of the American dream. Hegarty's previous work often exploded (quite literally) out of her canvas paintings on the wall and she is no stranger to producing entire environments, such as her Breakthrough Miami installation from 2010.
Her additions to the period rooms are constructed of modest materials: paper, papier-mache, wire, paint and glue yet they almost completely become an old wooden chair, a gilded picture frame, or an intricate floor rug. Hegarty does not abandon her trademark neon pinks and yellows in Table Cloth With Fruit and Crows. Her choice of color is my only reserve about this installation, but I’m willing to accept the bright palette although it’s the only boldly non-realistic aspect of the installation. In the second room, the Cupola House, I was intrigued by the faux tiled floor that Hegarty had made but was bothered by being able to see the wrinkles and tattered edges of her mat.
Hegarty’s inductions are successful in converging the past with the present in intriguing and thoughtful ways. The painterly qualities that she manages to maintain in the installations bring them to life in an alluring way, while simultaneously questioning the darker side of our history. Still, many questions arise from these modifications. For instance, why has the whole room not been altered? Paintings are torn, grass grows through the floorboards, and birds have pecked straight through chairs, yet other elements such as the walls and fabrics seem un-aged. Certainly the museum would likely not allow extreme or permanent alterations, but we are left to wonder which actions were the decisions of the institution, and which ones were Hegarty’s?