An Art Exhibition With a Functioning Sauna — and Face Masks

May 28, 2019 An Art Exhibition With a Functioning Sauna — and Face Masks

A few years ago, the artist Nicolas Lobo remade his studio, a typically nondescript warehouse space in Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood, by adding a juice bar and air-cleaning plants. If we hear these things and think Instagram, Lobo, 39, was thinking more of 19th-century art studios. “You’d have fabrics hanging on the walls and work out to be seen by other artists,” he says. “I wanted to make it an open place where people could come and be.” He could just as easily be describing the main floor of Mike Kelley’s “Mobile Homestead” — a to-scale replica of Kelley’s childhood home that sits on the grounds of the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit and functions as both an artwork and gathering space (and sometimes gallery) — where Lobo just installed his new body of work, “Wellness Center.”

Like Lobo’s studio, the show is an exploration of culturally held notions of comfort, and — especially exhibited in “Mobile Homestead,” which has served as a blood bank and hosted A.A. meetings — of community. Here he offers an answer to the fraught question of Who is wellness for? In this case, it is anyone curious enough to make an appointment for a treatment at his installation with Amy Corle, MOCAD’s curator of education and public engagement. For visitors, the overall impression is of a surreal self-service spa. Just past the main door to the house is an octagonal structure covered in tie-dyed terry cloth that turns out to be a functioning sauna. (Afterward, users can rinse off in the backyard under an outdoor shower with a Milo Baughman-inspired metal frame hung with clay tablets kneaded as if by a masseuse.) Another room has a sculpture incorporating a bathrobe, river stones and a concrete pillow cradling a serene (though disembodied) concrete head. On the walls, Lobo has hung photographic prints of panes of glass smeared not with paint or ink, but with moisturizer, turmeric and medical grade honey, and then pressed with translucent sheet masks.

Clearly, he is attuned to the ways in which wellness, or at least the wellness industry, can be ridiculous, but the work is far from cynical (he is, after all, the owner of a standing desk). Lobo understands the power of ritual, whether it’s a skin-care routine or the process of art-making, in which the artist enters his studio and goes through the motions despite not knowing exactly what he is working toward. “We have a lot of negative, traumatic things washing over us all the time, and they can be undefined — it’s sort of a modern version of mal du siècle,” he says. “I have a theory that we want the remedy to be a little bit undefined as well.” “Wellness Center” will be on view within “Mobile Homestead” through August 4, mocadetroit.org/mobile-homestead 

— KATE GUADAGNINO