After the Gold Rush
An artist turns a vacant house into a confrontational sculptural object.
Since 2008, bank seizures of millions of homes have left windows dark, lawns overgrown and families uprooted. But for one house in Los Angeles’ Glassell Park, foreclosure has meant transformation — via a coat of gold paint — into a “radical social sculpture” and a comment on capitalist crisis.
Artist Olga Koumoundouros was not close with her neighbors Glenda and Patty, both civil servants, but she fondly described the couple to an interviewer as “quite loud with, what they called, their ‘potty mouths.’” But soon after Patty died of brain cancer last year, Glenda disappeared. It emerged that Glenda, $250,000 underwater on her house and in need of medical attention, decided to walk away, fleeing to her family in Kentucky. In February, facing mortgage debt themselves, Koumoundouros and her partner checked out the empty building, thinking they could occupy the house and rent out their home.
Inside, traces of the two women lingered — sky-colored sponge paint, Irish-pride paraphernalia and gay pride flags. Resting on a couch was an empty crematorium box labeled “Patty’s ashes.” Sobered, Koumoundouros transformed the space into a memorial to Patty and a challenge to the law. In an interview with local radio station KPFK, she explained that multiple homes on her block have been foreclosed on. “This is having a big impact on the social quality of our neighborhood,” she said.“So I was thinking of this crass way to drive home this idea of the house being a lump of gold that seemed traded.”
The result is a confrontational sculptural object that Koumoundouros has titled A Notorious Possession. The gold exterior and the rainbow Koumoundouros scrawled across the interior walls pay homage to Patty and Glenda’s aesthetic and signify “how [owning a] house was the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for many Americans — truly a significant part of the American dream,” she says. She has also opened the house up as a dwelling-place for women artists, and a space for community discussions and art events around the foreclosure crisis.
Under advice from lawyers, Koumoundouros switched the utilities to her name and made plumbing repairs in an attempt to have her stay be legally recognized as an “adverse possession.” On October 5, however, the property owners and local police had threatened her with “criminal trespass” and locked her out of the house.
“I love my street and community, even more so the more I engage with it,” she says. “To have all these vacant properties on such a tiny street makes our culture wane.”
Prints of A Notorious Possession are available for purchase here.