Be My Guest: The Art of Interiors

Barbara Bloom is known for smart, conceptual installations that mock fine taste and effete dilettantism, even while acknowledging the seductive charms of high culture. The installation for Be My Guest deals with music: an ensemble of her signature rugs, music stands, and photographs referencing additional musical connotations. Part of the work’s appeal is that every piece suggests an elegant surrounding where music is interwoven into the genteel atmosphere of an educated, upper-class home.

In the Song works employing archival digital prints, Bloom substitutes, in many cases, thumbnail photographs for the musical notes on song sheets. In other pieces, the relationship to music is subtler and more abstract. In the original display of Song from 2008, Bloom placed the prints on the music stands; recently, however, she has exhibited the framed archival prints on the wall, with the empty stand displayed in front.

In her book Ghost Writer, Bloom asks, “How submerged does a reference have to be before it drowns?” The line is not hers, but a quotation from Julian Barnes’ Flaubert’s Parrot. In the novel, a widowed expert on Flaubert attempts to track down the stuffed parrot that Flaubert once had on his desk, as if locating and identifying the correct object would reveal something about the critical totality of Flaubert’s work. Bloom thinks of objects and pictures as “placeholders for thoughts,” but exactly how that place-holding takes place she knows to be an ongoing, complex issue. In this work, Bloom references Steinway & Sons’ process for custom-made pianos, which begins with paper cut-outs of varying sizes for clients to place in their homes before deciding on scale.


Vexations, 2004

is based on the score for a noted musical work by Erik Satie from 1893–1895. Satie’s score consists of a short choral passage that is intended to be repeated 840 times. On the score, Satie wrote, “In order to play this motif 840 times consecutively to oneself, it will be useful to prepare oneself before-hand, and in utter silence, by grave immobilities.”

One of the key points of this seemingly absurd instruction is that, through time and multiple repetitions, the individuality of the players is subsumed by the music, and what seemed facile becomes a source of harmony and ease. Bloom was particularly attracted to this as a metaphor for artistic practice, while the act of walking over a carpet can be akin to endless repetition.