A large Le Pine Funerals sign at Heide’s entrance will fool many visitors to the gallery. Of course, it would be incongruous for a funeral parlour to share parking space with a public museum. But this subtle mixed message gives some sense of how Callum Morton operates. The Melbourne artist’s retrospective exhibition In Memoriam could be read as an attempt to debunk the glorification of modernist architecture, inviting us to question and rethink the symbolism and icons of our urban landscape.
The artist’s likening of the museum to a mausoleum also references a common thread throughout his work. Indeed, the exhibition draws from almost 20 years of work and many pieces display a melancholic, tomb-like quality. Morton was born on the same day Le Corbusier died and the man widely considered the pioneer of modern architecture features prominently in Morton’s work.
A replica Villa Savoye, originally designed by Le Corbusier in 1928 as a country retreat for the Savoye family, has been transformed into a drive-in cinema projection booth, which splashes the darkened gallery space with images amid the sound of gunfire. The real Villa Savoye fell quickly into disrepair and Morton seemingly revels in exposing its incompatibility with the very people it was designed for.
He takes a similar approach to Mies van der Rohe’s iconic Farnsworth House, built in 1951. The house was commissioned by Dr Edith Farnsworth, an intensely private women who lived alone and wanted a quiet country retreat. Instead she was left with a house made of glass that came with a clause forbidding her from installing blinds. Morton has created a replica – an opaque model of the house – and used cinematic effect to dramatise a life of excess so at odds with its owner. The flickering lights and idle gossip of party can be heard, before gunshots and screams echo throughout the space. The modernist utopian vision ends in massacre.
The exhibition includes early drawings of fires on Melbourne’s commission flats and Frank Lloyd Wright’s living room, as well as a new, one-to-one scale replica of Heide II’s upstairs fireplace, which effectively transforms it from an architectural detail to a tomb-like sculpture.
In Memoriam runs until 16 October at Heide Museum of Modern Art. Enquire about the guided tours, which make for a richer understanding of the layers of meaning behind each piece.