Description: UNTITLED (BAALBECK BIRDCAGE)
Dimensions: 310 by 297 by 196cm.; 122 by 117 by 77in.
Artist or Maker: MONA HATOUM B. 1952
Medium: wood and galvanized steel
Date: Executed in 1999, this work is unique.
Exhibited: San Antonio, ArtPace, Mona Hatoum, 1999
Santa Fe, SITE Santa Fe, Mona Hatoum, 2000-01
Literature: Exhibition Catalogue, North Adams, MASS MoCA, Mona Hatoum - Domestic Disturbance, 2001, pp. 42-43, illustrated in colour
Ann Wilson Lloyd, "Art/Architecture; From Nest to Nest, Creating on the Fly", in: The New York Times, 3 June 2001, n.p.
Gannit Ankori, Palestinian Art, London 2006, p. 147, illustrated in colour
Provenance: Alexander and Bonin Gallery, New York
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner
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Mona Hatoum's extraordinary and monumental Untitled (Baalbeck Birdcage) of 1999 stands as awe-inspiring testament to this artist's brilliant manipulation of scale and pioneering sculptural invention. The inspiration behind this work was a domestic birdcage that Hatoum encountered in the city of Baalbeck during a journey in Lebanon in 1996. Metaphorical associations of imprisonment and acute claustrophobia confront the viewer and are immediately compelling, and Hatoum even used the dimensions of cells of the infamous prison Alcatraz to fashion her phenomenally oversized sculpture. Having reinterpreted the original birdcage by magnifying its scale ten times, the dimensions and outline of the work become disconcertingly human-sized and powerfully evocative of a human dwelling, finally implicating us as potential occupants of its caged space.
The terms of the sculpture's construction, consisting of a rigidly formal and geometric structure of wooden and steel simplicity, is perhaps reminiscent of reductive 1960s Minimalism, although the conceptual identity of Hatoum's work is of course more psychologically and emotionally loaded through the power of association. The colossal birdcage physically epitomises the phenomenon of oxymora inasmuch as contradicting entities are purposefully spliced together. Untitled (Baalbeck Birdcage) appears as a birdcage in every detail except its scale, which thereby renders useless its eponymous function of interning birds within a fixed space. By undermining the object's original function, Hatoum interrogates the quotidian and pervasive societal practices of assumption and preconception.
Born in Beirut in 1952, Hatoum's life experience has thus far been one of double exile: first as part of a Palestinian family in Lebanon, and subsequently manifest as her own move to England during Lebanon's Civil War of the 1970s. Although her work is frequently interpreted within this biographicalcontext, with special attention drawn to allied themes such as displacement, alienation, and exile, she herself has always avoided being overtly autobiographical or didactic in her work. Indeed, the present work brilliantly encapsulates how she brings together personal, political and conceptual strands in her art. Ultimately she negotiates a delicate balance between wider themes of physical presence and metaphysical absence, and the ontological response of each autonomous viewer becomes paramount in the reception of her wonderful work.