Artful Tension

Chicago Tribune
Artful Tension
By Tiffany Meyers, September 5, 2010

Every art lover knows: Creative expression, whether it’s museum-quality paintings or videos by Madonna, is sometimes about making you squirm. Hang a few provocative pieces on the walls of your home, and you’ve got a different kind of challenge — how to incorporate edgy artwork into an interior that’s welcoming and happy; and whether you should take down your precious paintings when mom and dad stop by for a visit.

For Jeanne Landolt Masel, owner of the online gallery shiftartgallery.com, the answers came easy. In the loft home she shares with husband Dennis Masel, she has created a space that puts the couple’s art collection center stage. And she wholeheartedly embraces the reactions from visitors. Masel’s eclectic collection includes work by emerging artists, African masks and contemporary urban art from the likes of Paul Insect, D*Face and Banksy, the British street artist whose identity remains unknown.

In terms of temperament, Masel doesn’t fit the profile of an iconoclast. She’s cheerful and outgoing. She has stuffed animals, for goodness’ sake. But the girl does enjoy a little indictment of contemporary culture. At a recent party, her piece by D*Face, which depicts the Statue of Liberty with a clown nose and makeup, sparked debate among friends, including one whose sense of patriotism it offended.

“Whether you agree or not, people walk away from those conversations seeing things differently,” says Masel, who plans to start rotating her art to inspire fresh discussions. “It’s an opportunity to grow, which is what art does at its best.”

In the hallway is “Napalm,” a Banksy print that depicts Mickey Mouse and Ronald McDonald, walking hand in hand with the naked, child victim of a South Vietnamese napalm attack. The child is Phan Thi Kim Phuc, a 9-year-old girl photographed by Nick Ut that captured the 1973 Pulitzer Prize. These walls, in other words, don’t need paint to make a statement.

Masel has used the classic industrial bones of the loft to create a space that prioritizes art. The theme of the interior: transparency. Philippe Starck’s Louis Ghost chairs hold court around the dining table. Clear accessories like Kartell’s Bourgie lamp, Lucite occasional tables and diaphanous curtains keep natural light coursing through the space without interruption.

But for all the crisp lines, a few details explode out of the minimalist rulebook. A zebra print armchair sits in the corner of the dining room like a weed in a manicured lawn. A feature wall in the guest bedroom is clad in wallpaper so ornate it’s almost a caricature of ornate wallpaper.

And in the master bedroom, Masel’s neutral palette creates a separate-from-the-world tranquility — except for the blood red curtains, which she commissioned a seamstress to create.

The couple’s outdoor deck, a 600-square-foot facilitator of escapism, runs the length of the apartment. Around the deck’s perimeter, billowing white curtains catch in the wind. Every season, Masel throws a curtain-ironing party, enlisting friends to hang the fabric from simple wire lines. (“Those are good friends,” she says.)

An outdoor bed and upholstered banquettes, illuminated at night by dreamy up-lighting, give the deck a South Beach vibe. But in fact, the couple found their inspiration across the border, in Riviera Maya — a region of Mexico in which they vacationed and, later, got married.

It isn’t surprising to see that, to get to the deck, guests must engage with a piece of functional art. Dennis Masel worked with a metalworker to design and fabricate a hand-forged, stairway-as-sculpture leading from the dining room to the deck. The puzzlelike structure seems to echo one of Sol LeWitt’s cube sculptures.

Looking into the condo from the top step of that staircase, a large painting by Martin Soto dominates the view. Its stark composition — a black crow on a wire, set against a vast sky — is countered by a swath of vibrant, supersaturated, chemical green.

And that, as it happens, is more than a little like the woman who owns the painting — cheerful and unpretentious, with an unexpected edge — and the home she’s created: museum clean, rich with provocation.

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