Few in the art world here had heard of Marjetica Potrc, from Ljubljana, Slovenia, when she became the third winner of the Hugo Boss Prize, previously bestowed on art stars Matthew Barney and Douglas Gordon. But the scrappy materiality and disenfranchised spirit of her sheds, shacks, and lean-tos have made a big impression elsewhere in the world. So have the startling social implications of her work.
Potrc’s art has nothing to do with obsolete modern notions of progress. It addresses issues of shelter and survival, urban realities and basic human needs. Trained as an architect, she deals in the human condition of outcasts and the underclass in sprawling megacities. Inspired by shantytowns, favelas, and edge cities that circumvent the powers that be, her makeshift constructions give new meaning to the term global village. They also give minimalism an anthropological edge.
“Kagiso: Skeleton House,” installed here along with photoworks and small objects, is a standoff between two complementary opposites. One is an ad hoc dwelling, a dense patchwork of scavenged metal, cinder blocks, bricks, wood, and plastic. Sprouting proudly from this stolid hovel is a satellite dish. The other, based on a subsidized-housing model developed in South Africa, is a simple “core unit” consisting of corrugated roof, concrete floor, and steel supports. Nothing more, except a toilet and copper spigot that stick out like sore thumbs. In this stark and startling show, Potrc posits a choice of essentials. Body or mind? Hygiene or hookup? House or home?
Potrc also does the unthinkable: She sees beauty and a positive paradigm in the improvised structures that cling like barnacles to the most impoverished and unplanned parts of expanding cities. Is this a dubious appreciation of picturesque poverty and dire necessity? Touristic romanticism in a new guise? Hardly. “Extreme conditions give birth to significant inventions,” she insists. She may be the first real 21st-century artist.