Aïda Ruilova’s new show at Marlborough Chelsea, The Pink Palace, would make for an interesting first date. To begin with, there’s an enormous black heart in the center of it. For Ruilova’s first foray into large-scale inflatable sculpture, it’s a bit ominous. Ruilova has a sweet, upbeat voice, so it’s all the more jarring to hear her say, when she speaks about this piece, that “unfortunately, we’re all going to die.” The black heart confronts us with this truth in a provocative, startling new way.
Ruilova explains how delicate the sculpture is and how easily it can be destroyed. “If someone sticks a pin in it, it’s gone very quickly.” She connects this to the body’s ethereality.
Yet the black heart is a complicated symbol. “There are so many metaphors for the heart,” says Ruilova. She lists some of its associations and meanings. “Breath, pumping blood through the body, being heart broken, the beat of it. There’s so much in terms of what it could mean or reference.” The heart also leans against the wall, creating pressure, which mimics the skin and what happens when two bodies press together.
The name of the show references both the body (a pink palace itself) and a story that highlights human fragility.
“Jayne Mansfield had a home in LA that she built in the 50s called the Pink Palace,” says Ruilova. “Everything was the kitschiest possible version of femininity. It was an homage to her feminine ideas, the most exaggerated representation of being female.” Pink shag rug, pink walls, pink ceiling, heart shaped pool. Yet, in the middle of her bedroom, Mansfield’s bed featured a black velvety satin cover.
“Why did she make it black? It was odd,” says Ruilova. Like the black heart in the middle of her show, something ominous lay at the center of Mansfield’s otherwise exuberant decorations. The house and Mansfield herself both met dark ends. Ruilova explains how Mansfield died in a car crash while her children were in the back seat. And the house? “It was demolished,” says Ruilova. “I think Ringo Starr bought it.”
Circling back to that first date thing, though. The Pink Palace also meditates on the erotic, which might fuel the lust between you and your date. In Ruilova’s short film, Immoral Tales, a disembodied forefinger rubs and penetrates a pair of open lips to sounds of a woman’s heavy breathing. The film is inspired by a sexually explicit French film of the same name by director Walerian Borowczyk.
“The mouth is such a symbol of this erotic, central place in our bodies,” says Ruilova. She also notes that the inside of the mouth is black, as is the rest of the body. It only becomes pink if you light it. “It’s dark inside of us.”
Erotic film posters adorn the gallery. Ruilova obscures images of women’s bodies with black velvet floral shapes. In one, a black sunflower rises out of a woman’s cleavage. Ruilova again reminds us of our eventual demise. Neither bodies nor flowers last forever. Neither does art—the velvet itself is delicate, and she notes how easily it could tear.
Ruilova speaks about walking “the tightrope between life and death. Ashes to ashes.” Her own father died a couple of years ago, which led her to grapple with mortality in a new way. She says that this new body of work is a little different for her, perhaps informed by her proximity to the subject.
Ultimately, if you want to have a good discussion about mortality and eroticism, this could be the perfect show for you and your new Tinder/Happn/Hinge/Bumble buddy. They’re topics you’ll have to wrestle with anyway—why delay? If you’d rather hold off, don’t wait too long. The show closes on March 12, and it’s not to be missed.
To learn more about Aïda Ruilova's work, click here.