Artist Spotlight: Michael Petry
BY Christopher Harrity
March 17 2012 2:00 AM ET
In 2010. I became the first artist in residence at Sir John Soane’s Museum in London, and installed two shows over the period of a year. The second, "Bad Seed," showed work made in response to the residency and was based on the difficult personal history of Sir John Soane and his innovative use of colored glass and mirror in his home. The new works also referenced the Romantic elements of Soane’s collections (paintings by Henry Fuseli and Maria Cosway) as much as the architecture of rooms like the Monk’s Parlour, but the gothic nature of Soane’s relationships to his children led to the creation of the world’s first museum of architecture. Soane had two sons, John Junior, who married and followed his father’s architectural career, and George, a redheaded tearaway. When John Junior died, George reluctantly joined the family business, but took revenge on his father by anonymously criticizing his work in several newspaper articles. When Soane secretly found out, the news shocked his mother, who thought he might even be a changeling, and she expired, leaving Soane to curse and cut George loose.Without funds, George landed in debtors' prison, but returned to impregnate his sister-in-law as a final revenge. Soane’s legitimate grandson Frederick was also a disappointment as he became involved with a Captain Westwood, whose army career was blighted by a close relationship with another officer (who took his own life). Soane secretly decided to leave all of his estate to the government (by act of Parliament) rather than his male heirs. Upon his father’s death George was called to the family solicitors to receive his inheritance, handed to him in an envelope, which contained only copies of the bad reviews he had written.
The biomorphic glass forms insinuated themselves into odd spaces in the museum, seeping from corners of rooms, or the fireplace, or appeared as if they had dropped from the ceiling or crept in from outside. Some works were placed upon items of furniture where their incongruous presence confronted the viewer. Soane believed that demonic spirits (incubus/succubus) had corrupted his progeny, and the Bad Seeds’ organic shapes ape the vapors said to inhabit haunted sites, the ectoplasm that solidifies into strange artifacts. While they responded to the physical architecture of the rooms they were placed in, they were not site-specific installations but autonomous sculptures. — M.P.