All visitors to Masterpiece London, the art and antiques fair that runs from June 29 to July 5 at the the South Grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, will be greeted by a mystical surprise at its entrance. "We had this idea we wanted to do something with the space to make it really exciting for our visitors," Masterpiece chairman Philip Hewat-Jaboor says.
Six large, square-shaped trunks stand in a circular formation, bathing a dark room in a green light, sparking comparisons to another English prehistoric monument: Stonehenge. One side of each trunk appears to be an entrance to an alternate universe, due to the green neon tubes and mirrors that viewers can peer into on one side. The installation, part of Masterpiece Presents, is a work by the New York-based, Chilean artist Iván Navarro, who said that the Stonehenge connection came about after he conceived of the installation. "It gives a very mystical aura to the piece, which is very important, because the piece, it kind of plays with the spirituality, that is, a frustrated spirituality with the idea of the illusion," says the artist.
Each box, measuring 72 × 72 × 30 inches and titled Impenetrable Room, garners looks of wonder from passersby because of the illusion that they are infinite portals into the unknown. Navarro created the pieces with two green wavy neon tubes that line the inside of the box. A mirror at the back of the box interacts with a one-way mirror that viewers can peer into, creating the appearance of an infinite room. The boxes garner a frustration of sorts, because you can't actually go into the room. Some observers bump their noses into the mirror while looking into the artwork. "That interaction and there being a frustration from the viewer because you can't actually use the pieces or penetrate them," says Navarro. "It looks like you could."
The artist wants to make sure that visitors walk around each sculpture as the neon side alternates between the inside and outside of the circle. "It's very important to know that they're three-dimensional pieces because usually when people see my work they think that, 'Oh, this is the front, and the back, who cares about the back,' when here the back is completely boring, you make it part of the work," he says. "You don't hide it."
Works by Brazilian artist Hélio Oiticica, who made a series of colorful, maze-like rooms in the 60s called The Penetrables, and Venezuelan op-art artist Carlos Cruz-Diez, who created vibrant, geometric works, inspired Navarro. Instead of making spaces where viewers can interact with the pieces, Navarro did the opposite with The Impenetrable Room, where there is a different kind of interaction between the viewer and the artwork. "The work always controls the way you're going to look at it," says Navarro. "It creates a choreography, and you're a performer, and the work tells you how to look at it."
Navarro first started working with neon about a decade ago when he made a chair with neon. "I thought what would be a good material, light material that can represent the chair, and then I realized that neon was the perfect way of recreating the piece, and that's how I understand how neon works," he says, adding that the medium is also durable. "Let's say you turn it on and off, neon can last 50 years," Navarro continues. "It makes it easier for you to work in art with it, because it's very steady."
Another work by Navarro, a circular sculpture with neon tubes that produces the illusion of a never ending rabbit hole one can fall down into is on display at Paul Kasmin Gallery's stand at Masterpiece.
Navarro finds the Stonehenge comparisons to the circular formation of his Impenetrable Rooms amusing. "Stonehenge is the real thing," says Navarro. "There's no mystery about it. Only where it came from and why it's there, but here you look at this, it looks very mysterious, but since it's this, obviously it's a trick."