Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle

February 15, 2010 /

North Adams, Massachusetts, USA
On view: December 12, 2009 - October 31, 2010

Photo courtesy MASS MoCA

Inspired by Mies van der Rohe's uncompleted 50x50 House (1951), Manglano-Ovalle has constructed a half-scale version of this iconic Modernist glass-walled house and inverted it so that its ceiling becomes its floor. All interior elements, including Mies-designed furniture and partition walls, are installed upside down.

Photo arcspace
Drawing courtesy MASS MoCA

Subtle bits of evidence indicate the presence of a mysterious narrative within the flipped house: a cup and saucer lie shattered on the actual floor of the sculpture, as if fallen from one of the inverted tables. A cell phone, sitting precariously on a table, seems poised to fall; on its screen plays a relentless series of video messages that seem to call out to the absent occupant of the house. The viewer is left to piece together this haunting, incomplete narrative. As much an event and an action as a work of sculpture, Manglano-Ovalle's work subjects modernist political and aesthetic ideals to a new kind of transparency, allowing us to see them upside down and to reevaluate both their dangers and their possibilities in a contemporary context.

Photo courtesy MASS MoCA
Photo courtesy MASS MoCA
Photo courtesy MASS MoCA

The mysterious tableaux links Manglano-Ovalle's installation to what is widely regarded as the first science fiction novel, Yevgeny Zamyatin's We (1921).


Set in a futuristic world where individual freedom does not exist and all inhabitants live and work in transparent buildings, the novel tells the story of a state-employed engineer who falls in love with a terrorist and ultimately finds himself in a desperate state. The tale culminates in the engineer futilely attempting to destroy the monolithic power system, banging his head on glass walls.

Filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein, said to have been inspired by the Zamyatin novel and Mies van der Rohe's drawings for glass skyscrapers in Berlin, set out to make The Glass House (1930). Eisenstein intended the film as his first Hollywood studio production, but his aim to shape it into a cultural satire of America ultimately prevented its production.


Manglano-Ovalle has long been interested in hybridizing layers of meaning from multiple systems of knowledge (architecture, literature, film, science, art) into singular and moving physical experiences that pose as many questions as they answer. Gravity is a Force to be Reckoned With brings together seemingly diverse, but historically charged, narratives from 20th-century cultural practice.

Manglano-Ovalle's 2006 film Always After (The Glass House) (2006), about the end of utopian transparency, shows in conjunction with the exhibition. Always After documented an actual event but was not orchestrated. Inside a building, massive windows have been broken, and someone is slowly sweeping up the shattered remains. From a floor-level perspective, the viewer sees the legs of an anonymous audience and hears the sound of broom-swept glass. The location, action, and incongruous audience sounds are unexplained. What is clear is that the viewer has arrived late, always late, always after.

Photo courtesy MASS MoCA

Another exhibition of new work by Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle, Happiness is a state of inertia, is on view at Max Protetch Gallery in New York.

Here the unbuilt house is represented as a model, and the model is a fish tank - it both stands in for Mies's unrealized design and replaces it with a troubling new vision, an analogue to Plato's cave that has been subjected to the intense glare of illumination.

Photo courtesy Max Protetch Gallery

The fish tank, built with glass and white aluminum, lit with white light and lined on the bottom with white gravel, is filled with Astyanax fasciatus mexicanus, commonly known as the Blind Mexican Cave Fish; these fish are indeed blind and make their way via smell and touch.



Last updated: December 19, 2013

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