Thomas Houseago’s Moun Room is up now at Hauser & Wirth. Low-grade in materials, the work is crafted in plaster, yet it is a navigable structure that organizes space. Thus, Moun Room teeters between sculpture and architecture.
Comprising concentric rectangles, Moun Room is 37 feet by 45 feet wide and 12 feet tall at the center. Erected on plywood substrate and joined by rebar, the walls of Moun Room combine TUF-CAL plaster mixed with hemp. The interior surfaces appear to be sanded down, and in many places, they crack and crumple as a result of the plaster process. When considering these surfaces over the ribbed exteriors, a visitor might think of skin and bones. Pausing to gaze through its portholes and oculi could evoke eyes – or any other holes of the body. But the presence of any literal “figure” ends when Moun Room is empty of viewers.
And to leave behind his mythical figures is a major departure for Houseago. His grotesque, hulking figures brought him a lot of attention, including several shows at the other Hauser & Wirth locations. What stands in place of these figures looks like a provisional temple. The holes cut into the walls look like moon diagrams, and it’s tempting to imagine this temple outdoors, where sunbeams would pipe through the space. It feels pagan. This is another aspect that dangles Moun Room between sculpture and architecture.
1900 years ago, Hadrian rebuilt Jerusalem as a pagan city. He installed cultic statues on the Temple Mount and built there a temple to the Roman god Jupiter. His pagan sites in Jerusalem survived, despite the tidal shifts of Constantine and Julian. But over the centuries, the cultic and pagan shrines on the Temple Mount crumbled. The Temple Mount changed hands from Jewish, Christian, and Muslim control. Fast forward to today: it’s a lethally contested powder keg for both prayer and violence, at which worship and policing are mutually exclusive.
Regarding Jerusalam: “When you bring the religious dimension, it absolutizes the conflict — you can divide land, you can divide security, but the sacred is indivisible,” says a philosophy scholar in a recent New York Times article. In the absolutist context of religion, the existential “either-or” joins the formal (and facile) binaries of “negative and positive, solid and void” evident in Moun Room.
Moun Room is not explicitly religious, or really even sacred, but it is a high-value structure in a rarefied commercial space – a space that less than a decade ago was a gay roller disco nightclub. Whether sculpture or architecture, full of visitors or empty, Moun Room reminds us of the high stakes and changing faces of The Sacred.