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The Amber Room at the Luggage Store Gallery

A Room of One's Own

In the early 18th century, Fredrick I built the Amber Room, a small room with inlaid, hand-carved amber walls and bejeweled mosaics built as a gift for the Russian czar at the time, Peter the Great. After changing hands among the royalty of the day, the Amber Room was displaced during World War II, only for parts of it to resurface in Europe in the late 90s. It has since been reconstructed and is on display in various forms in museums and traveling shows, however, going to visit its modern day doppelganger is hardly the point of The Amber Room, a group exhibition of new work currently on display at the Luggage Store Gallery in San Francisco.

Curators David Spalding and Pauline Yao commissioned four internationally recognized artists to create work inspired by the Amber Room mythology. This open ended curatorial premise allowed the artists, Liu Ding, Won Ju Lim, Shirley Tse and Wang Wei to dismantle the metaphor of the Amber Room in order to reassemble what it is that has made civilizations value objects like this room and what continues to make us lust for this kind of absolute opulence.

The Amber Room is more than a place it is an idea. It is a brand name for desire. The Amber Room actually existed as a site of the ultimate form of luxury and wealth. It was a physical space that kings and czars were said to either inhabit or disregard. This is enough to transcend the Amber Room from a mere location to an archetype of desire. It is a name of a type of craving that can be traced from one room of history -- constructed for kings of countries whose borders have been erased by wars and forgotten by long dead citizens - to a type of desire that has become synonymous with how we live today.

Won Ju Lim's installation, "Orange Extension Cord" is nestled into a small room built for Lim's piece in the front of the gallery. The sculpture is a low lying structure made of mirrored walls and a hollowed interior exposing the lights, plugs and components that fuel the work. Orange, pink and soft green lights reflect off of the strange model to create a tone of intoxicating warmth and colored shadows on each of the walls. The shadows create the reflected lines of an urban architecture, familiar, monolithic and almost inviting yet vapid. "Orange Extension Cord" is a false architecture being projected from a false image. It is neither furniture nor scale model. It is a void sort of object, a space with no entry or location. It is an Amber Room stripped of its agency.

Wang Wei's "Wandering Pavilion", however, is entirely too real of an architecture. It is a pagoda style structure built entirely out of metal. The pavilion is built in the recognizable style of the Chinese pagoda except that it is made from scaffolding, the familiar groaning material of urban development. As viewers move toward Wei's pagoda, the idea of the Amber Room continues to come into and out of focus. "Wandering Pavilion" is a triumphantly menacing version of waste. It consumes the gallery with both its weight and command over the movement within the space. It is built as a senseless, decentralized pathway and by employing the mundane materials of urban growth the installation is simultaneously a work of construction and destruction ultimately leading the wandering viewer nowhere and certainly no closer the fabled Amber Room.

The Amber Room as exhibition is a minimalist take on a sublime room constructed in a long ago history. Its context isn't important to its lasting mark on our collective aching for material perfection in all of its forms. The exposed construction, naked frameworks of shapes, paths and objects of all of the work in the show tears us away from our hopes for this perfection but it also reveals the aesthetics of our imagined Amber Rooms.

The Amber Room
at The Luggage Store Gallery
runs through 10/14/06