This hot young Swiss artist’s extreme architectural makeover inaugurated Maccarone a couple of years ago and remains unforgettable. The agile and the brave entered through a jagged hole in a bathroom and—after climbing down ladders and through a labyrinth of odd interiors—exited onto the gallery’s roof in artificial rain. Now Büchel transforms the Swiss Institute beyond recognition with an equally daunting apartment installation of dingy rooms within rooms.
The institute’s wide entrance and big, bare space have vanished, replaced by a Kabakovian tenement door. Squeeze sideways through the hallway’s cinder blocks, and you find yourself in a bedroom. The details—from threadbare mattress and dried-out aquarium to jar of pennies and radio tuned to 93 K-Rock—take realism beyond the pale. Gradually it dawns on you that two fictitious bachelors have divided one apartment with a massive cinderblock wall that slices through each room, creating a maze of disputed territories. They’ve even devised strategically placed bike mirrors to spy on each other.
One recluse gets half a tub with the crucial faucets. The entrance to the other guy’s half-apartment is a tunnel under the bathroom sink. Crawl through it into a closet and over a bed to his living room, where—inside the fireplace—another tunnel leads to a bunker with a final maniacal touch: a fan that sucks air out of that dark, low space. If you make it that far without succumbing to claustrophobia or bruised knees, a swig from a bottle of cheap whiskey could be your reward. “Only people who live in the East Village can dig this,” remarked one shaken viewer, crawling out. Others might link it to a lineage that includes Alfred Jarry’s legendary halved apartment, Ed Kienholz’s SRO tableau, or even Duchamp’s bachelors. Somewhere behind the walls, the artist, in the institute’s office, declined to emerge. The associate curator told me Büchel had considered advertising for a roommate in the Voice for an extra hit of reality.