In the early 1950s, a newly independent India commissioned Le Corbusier to design a city, Chandigarh, as a regional administrative center in the northern part of the country. The institutional buildings he created with other modernist architects were outfitted with functional furniture (designed by his cousin, Pierre Jeanneret), that has become collectible in Europe and the United States. Provenance, Amie Siegel’s slow-paced, engrossing HD video, traces this narrative of objects in reverse.
Using long takes, ambient sound and no voiceover, she starts with shots of midcentury chairs, tables, stools, desks and sofas ensconced in tony New York apartments and offices, and on a luxury yacht. The images unfold in time through auction houses, photographers’ and restorers’ studios, warehouses and shipping containers, then back to Chandigarh itself, where the furniture lies broken and discarded or stacked in abandoned rooms in aging Brutalist edifices. Siegel’s work, as we might expect, has more in mind than an anecdote in the history of taste; the artist’s reticent recounting of the saga of Jeanneret’s unlovely furnishings reveals itself over time as a contemplation of the trickle-up mechanics of globalism.
Lot 248, a second, shorter video, documents the 2013 auction of a copy of Provenance at Christie’s in London. Bidding occurs fitfully; the hammer falls at a respectable 42,000 pounds. Siegel neatly inserts her own work as a conceptual double into the same circuits that govern the fate of her subjects.—Joseph R. Wolin