Over the past 20 years, New York City artist Laura Foreman has ventured off on some dizzying flights of imagination. In 1983, for example, she created a chocolate-covered Statue of Liberty and installed it, melting, in a gallery window. Soon afterward, she devised a hologram of human lips that mouthed “I love you.” But Foreman’s current project may be her most dazzling inspiration yet. Using materials from garden stores and flea markets, she has constructed a series of 14 birdhouses, each of them unique. The houses are not just bird brained whimsy—they are, wrote a New Yorker critic, “serious ruminations on the housing crisis, homelessness and personal entrapment.”
Foreman’s Trump Birdhouse (are you with us, Donald?) is a case in point. Constructed of plywood and tongue depressors and covered with fake $20, $50 and $100 bills, the house represents “what happens when man gets a lust for wealth,” Foreman explains. “Everything turns into money—even a sweet, innocent symbol like a birdhouse.” Totem Birdhouse, five stark plywood houses stacked one on top of the other, is intended as a statement on the architectural sameness of much public housing. And Birdhouse (for Charlie “Bird” Parker), a run-down shack with a mattress and a tiny bottle of Jack Daniel’s inside, pays homage to the legendary jazzman who died broke and an alcoholic. Attached to the house are headphones through which “Ornithology,” a Parker classic, plays continuously.
Foreman has always loved birds. “I like what they represent,” she says. “They’re here, but they can always take off.” The idea to provide them with some place to take off to, however, came to her only five years ago, while she was sitting in a park near her SoHo loft. As she stared at the looming multimillion-dollar condos going up all around her, she began to wonder about the fate of the park’s birds. If artists like herself were having trouble finding “decent, affordable housing on what used to be our cheap turf,” she remembers thinking, “maybe one of us at least could give the birds a hand.”
Her original proposal—to install bird-houses in the trees bordering the park-was entered in a public art competition, and lost. So Foreman built the houses purely as artworks. Last month her creations, priced between $1,000 and $4,800, were shown at SoHo’s Souyun Yi Gallery, and half were sold.
Foreman, 45, grew up in Los Angeles, the only child of a rare-books dealer and his wife, who sold magazine subscriptions. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin with a degree in modern dance, she moved to New York and joined the faculty of the New School for Social Research, where she created the school’s acclaimed dance program. She still runs the program there and heads her own dance troupe, which carries her name. She also writes and sculpts.
These days, though, her feathered friends are foremost in Foreman’s mind. She has been commissioned to design birdhouses for five city gardens, as well as for private estates in New Jersey, California and Italy. These houses, at last, will fulfill her original intent: Birds will be able to call them home. That, says Foreman, will be the ultimate test—more telling than any review. “If a bird won’t come into your birdhouse, what a failure you’ve been,” she says. “It’s like the house has come out in its best party dress… and then no one asks it to dance.”
—Bonnie Johnson, Sue Carswell in New York