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Posted at 4:07 PM ET, 01/ 4/2011

At the Hirshhorn: Have your Palace and Eat It, Too

By Jessica Dawson

Though my Monday afternoon visit to the Hirshhorn felt a bit like too much like a trip on the Washington, D.C., Metro system -- a museum escalator was disemboweled for maintenance; the sound wasn't working in one of the Directions show installations --- the post-holiday disarray had at least one salutary effect: The museum's Black Box is now a black room.

Though billed as part of the museum's Black Box series, Belgian artist Hans Op de Beeck's "Staging Silence" occupies a more generous basement spot than the usual Black Box cube. The room vacated by Wolfgang Laib's pollen installation now plays host to the video, which benefits from these darker, more spacious digs.

If you're an architecture aficionado, you might enjoy playing a game of name-that-space as Op de Beeck (b. 1969) builds a series of tiny scale models over the course of the 22- minute-long video. Before our eyes, he destroys and rearranges: A cubicle farm morphs into an airport which in turn becomes a hospital. The continuously changing sets are like miniature stages where the actors never show up. Only the hand of the artist -- a very literal deus ex machina -- arrives to create and destroy.

This is all well and good, but more lulling than zingy. Except for one delightful moment, which happened to be the very one I walked in on.

[Spoiler alert: New Years weight loss resolvers and Weight Watchers Points Plus program members stop reading here.]

op de beeck.jpg

That moment found Op de Beeck's camera alighting on a ziggurat-like palace that looked so grand, yet flimsy, that you were sure it was made of cardboard or paper.

Then, the artist's hands approached. With them came cutlery. In seconds, a three-story-high slice of layer cake was lifted right out of the palace.

No cardboard, no heavy paper stock. The palace was just flour and eggs and sugar and butter. A tasty fantasy.

"Black Box: Hans Op de Beeck" runs to February 27.

By Jessica Dawson  | January 4, 2011; 4:07 PM ET
Categories:  Contemporary Art, Jessica Dawson, Museums  
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