Freelancer Blair Tidwell attended the "So Many Open Houses" art installation last weekend arranged by Low Key Arts in the empty spaces of the crumbling, historic Moutainaire Hotel in Hot Springs. Here's her review; watch for her byline in the future:
Maybe a grassroots organization like Low Key Arts can’t completely restore Hot Springs’ Mountainaire Hotel buildings to their former glory, but it successfully reconciled the Spa City’s glitzy past with today’s lively art community. For two days, “So Many Houses” took over the pair of 1940s-era art moderne buildings that have been vacant and slowly crumbling since the 1990s. A curious public seemed excited to explore the mysterious structures — a work of art in themselves — which landed a spot on the National Register of Historic Places. Judging from the site-specific installations on view, the artists were inspired and awed by the unique architecture, too.
Visitors strolled from room to room, discovering works (most were not labeled with titles or artist names) in every available space: bathtubs, toilets, closets, floors, walls, balconies, stairs. Whimsy abounded, bringing color and vibrancy to an otherwise dreary reality — the fact that this incredible building is falling down. Balloons and flower arrangements filled dirty bathtubs; a children’s birthday party complete with streamers, cupcakes and party hats enlivened a room, but also highlighted its vacancy; dark brown wigs were carefully draped down a staircase, cascading from step to step; bright strings of pom-pom balls sprouted from light sockets and dribbled from faucets. Many works encouraged participation with the art, the building or the artists. Visitors were invited to draw on the floor with chalk, scribble their dreams on a set of sheets and pillowcases, have their fortunes read and peer through a peeping neighbor’s telescope. In effect, the run-down buildings were turned into a playground, with new surprises around every corner.
But not all of the works on display were playful and light-hearted; some used the dilapidated surroundings to heighten the already eerie aura. In one bathroom, pristinely clean in contrast to the other grimy examples, a faded image of a woman was projected onto the white tub. The ghostly likeness swayed as if in water. A collection of candles flickered on the side of the bath. A vase of red roses rested to her left. The scene recalled the dramatic flair of Hollywood’s film noir classics, popular in the 1940s, the same era of the Mountainaire Hotel’s construction.
Others highlighted the space’s past neglect and hope for renewal. One multimedia installation combined fallen bricks from the building, tree stumps and a bird cage strung up by a broken fishing reel. Inside the cage, a scattered nest held a vintage photograph of a woman. Across the room, underneath another black-and-white image, the word “lost” was scribbled on the wall. The individual objects felt like lost parts, gathered in a forgotten building. On yet another wall, a key hung from a rusted Chevrolet door; written on the door in chalk was “found.”