Charles Simonds first created his Dwellings in the early 1970s as tiny, impermanent constructions in the crevices and vacant lots of New York neighborhoods, and later developed them into semipermanent works situated in museums.
Constructed from miniature bricks cut from flat sheets of clay and assembled with tweezers, the Dwellings resemble the archaeological remains of indigenous communities of the American Southwest, such as the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde, and are imagined as architectural environments for fictional civilizations of “Little People” who roam the streets of neighborhoods in cities throughout the world. Each Dwelling encapsulates a different time and place in the history of the people, who are always absent from the structures, and marks their migration over time. Some are ruins; some are ruins in the process of rehabitation; and some are more recent settlements. The Dwellings are made with unfired clay and therefore impermanent, left to the vagaries of life around them.
At the Museum of Arts and Design, Simonds’ Dwelling occupies a discreet corner of the lobby, visible from the exterior, northwest corner of the building at the junction of Columbus Circle and Broadway. The artist’s works are often in dialogue with one another, and the counterpart to this piece can be found across the street in a window at 1790 Broadway. By placing clusters of these installations in visual proximity, Simonds slyly reminds viewers to look beyond museum walls. Dwelling was installed as part of the exhibition Otherworldly: Optical Delusions and Small Realities in 2011.