Parallax Gap by FreelandBuck is a site-specific ceiling installation now on view through February 18, 2018 at the Renwick Gallery's Bettie Rubenstein Grand Salon at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
Parallax Gap consists of a series of nine ceilings that project beyond the limits of the gallery’s own ceilings, each representing stylistically eclectic examples of American architecture that are loosely contemporaneous with the construction of the Renwick Gallery building in the late 19th Century. This assemblage is a catalog of notable American architectural styles rendered through 21st century technology and visual culture, including Victorian Gothic, Greek Revival, Beaux Arts, Romanesque, Neoclassical, Art Deco, and Second Empire. Traditionally, architectural drawing is used to describe a building, but in this case, a drawing is built as a specific object in three-dimensional space, producing an artifact that is both abstract and tectonic, representational and tactile.
Like Renaissance-era trompe l’oeil ceilings, Parallax Gap uses the illusionary depth of perspective to explore beyond the existing architecture. Trompe l’oeil illusion functions from a single key point—the center of a nave or directly under a dome. From other points of view, the illusion malfunctions: figures appear suddenly out of scale, space flattens out, or an entire dome seems to change orientation. Given the constant stream of successful visual illusions encountered every day, the glitches may now fascinate more than the intended effect. The Renwick installation amplifies and coordinates these gaps, opening up the space of illusion to creative interpretation. The viewer is left with a visual puzzle to solve.
The relatively low, horizontal expanse of the Grand Salon doesn’t allow for a singular, Western version of perspectival illusion. Instead, its proportions are more like a scroll— broad rather than deep, with one scene next to another. The impossibility of a single static point of view led scroll painters in China toward a looser system for describing depth, with multiple vanishing points and variable, unpredictable distortion between them. The nine ceilings in the installation are each drawn in perspective from several eccentric viewpoints, creating a series of distinct vantage points to be encountered as one moves through the gallery and zones between where the drawings collide and dissolve. The individual drawings are pulled apart onto multiple layers; fractured and allowed to merge into other, possible architectures.
FreelandBuck’s design was selected from among eight proposals by firms including Ball Nogues Studio, CollectiveLOK, Ibañez Kim, Iwamoto Scott, Joseph Giovannini, Oyler Wu Collaborative, Matsys Studio.
The FreelandBuck project team includes Dorian Booth, Alex Kim, Belinda Lee, Braden Young, and Takayuki Tachibe. Structural engineering by Matthew Melnyk at Nous Engineering. Lighting design by David Ghatan at Pixelumenlab. Fabrication by Fabric Images and rigging by Sapsis Rigging. Photography and video by Kevin Kunstadt.