In his first show at CRG, Brian Tolle presents his latest body of work, Levittown. Levittown, a planned housing community in Long Island, New York, was designed and built by Abraham Levitt (Levitt & Sons) between 1947 and 1951 and became the archetype of American suburban life in the years following the Second World War. Tolle’s sculptural works in this exhibition take their inspiration from that community.
Tolle has created cast silicone versions of the original Levittown houses. Like the thousands that were mass produced and assembled on blighted farmland sixty years ago, each is structurally identical – literally made from the same mold varying only in color scheme. The rubber houses, without any means of internal support, resemble deflated or melting skins. Meticulously crafted and bearing all the architectural details of the original houses, the effigies occupy the gallery space in different forms, each draped over or suspended by different appropriated objects. In one of the works, the elastic house hangs languidly and contorted over a 1950’s vintage beauty parlor hair dryer. The elastic shell takes on the figure-like structure of the form beneath it, resembling a cloaked and bowing figure. Other objects include a drinking fountain, a pair of crutches, and a foldout ironing board. Within each pairing, the found object and pliable architectural rendition inform each other; at times they exemplify hidden social or political signifiers that might remain dormant outside of their union. The structures that Tolle has chosen to use are objects from various periods and, like the original houses, represent quick and efficient mass production, the objects themselves characterizing a uniquely American brand of consumerism.
The formal play that Tolle articulates between the colors, the shapes and textures of the objects that form the underlying supports maintain a freedom from a directly schematic or contrived disposition. A similar play engaged in by the inhabitants of Levittown through the modifying of their homes over the years has effectively erased the homogeneity that Levittown was both defined by and criticized for. Two defining cultural modes specific to American consumerism are presented in this exhibition: the seduction toward conformity or compliance with a mass-produced standard and the necessity to define one’s identity through the alteration or defiance of it.
Brian Tolle is also recognized for this public commissions including the Irish Hunger Memorial located in Battery Park, New York City, and Stronghold at the University of Washington in Seattle, Washington. He was recently awarded by the Design Commission of the City of New York with the Award for Excellence in Design for a new sculptural project to be installed at the entrance of the Manhattan Bridge, Brooklyn, New York, in 2009.