Stephen Prina

As He Remembered It

Text by Christabel Stewart and Ajay RS Hothi

There’s a story Stephen Prina often tells in the context of his exhibition As He Remembered It, shown at the Vienna Secession in 2011 and at LACMA earlier this year. Late one night in the early 1980s, Prina and his friend, fellow artist Christopher Williams, were out walking on Los Angeles’ La Brea Avenue. Across the street they glimpsed a lighted pink object in a storefront. Moving towards the shop for a better look, they saw that it was a desk. More than that, they recognised it as a desk designed by the Austrian architect Rudolf Schindler, a piece of furniture which had been ripped out of a built-in interior and presented as an autonomous item. To Prina, this was an act of violence, an atrocity against holistic design.

Prina tracked down two more of Schindler’s original designs – not too difficult a task, since he lived in LA as an expat in the 1940s and the city still bears signs of his work. Prina then rebuilt these two sets of furniture in plywood: staircases, cupboards, closets, wardrobes, beds, counter-tops and settees. In a deliberate act of glorious misdirection, he painted the 28 resulting structures in rich Honeysuckle pink (Pantone’s Colour of the Year 2011 – #18-2120, for the purists).

As He Remembered It is not an act of commemoration or consecration; rather, Prina speaks of “translation” as an important principle. When he began the project, the houses that had held the original designs had been demolished; the shop where Prina and Williams first saw the Schindler desk had long closed. The materials he used for the reconstructions were anachronistic. It’s not even possible to know how precisely the original furniture reflected Schindler’s intentions: there could have been compromises between architect and carpenter. With this exhibition, Prina confronts history, nostalgia and the gulf between an artist and his intended (or perhaps unintended) representation. §

Image: As He Remembered It, installation views, Secession Vienna (2011).© the artist, courtesy Galerie Gisela Capitain, Cologne, Maureen Paley, London and Friedrich Petzel Gallery, New York. Photography © Wolfgang Thaler, Vienna.