For her installation at Airplane Gallery in Bushwick this past summer, Leeza Meksin took a basement, a dank place full of exposed piping (paging Freud), and made it fabulous. Her position is that houses deserve to have outfits too—even for their nether regions. With draping, weights, and ties, flashy spandex and shiny lamé, she made the basement's flat surfaces and straight lines into curvy, glamorous figures, ready for their close-ups. Meksin put architecture in drag, and renamed pipes and pylons for airplane parts.
In the garden behind the gallery, Meksin installed Winglet, a huge piece of hot-pink open mesh layered with smaller pieces of bright-pink and neon-green patterned spandex. It looked like an airplane wing, but it was also a canopy, dappling the sunlight and providing a cool shelter for visitors on a hot June day. Meksin was careful to place it so that the plants beneath it still got enough light. For her, decoration is accommodating, considerate of the needs of others. Decoration is polite; it does not loom or crush. Decoration is not architecture—yet, at the same time, as Meksin points out, it is a way of taking possession of a space. By dressing up both the insides and the outsides of buildings, Meksin creates a tension between architecture and decoration, art and bodies, and what is visible and what is concealed. She pursues this project in other mediums, as well— for example, in her disconcertingly tumescent sculptural paintings, or in flesh-colored foam handbags that look like breasts. (These "douchebags" tease Freud, for whom handbags were vagina substitutes.)
Meksin was born in Moscow. When she was eleven, she and her family fled Russia and landed in Columbus, Ohio, where they began the process of making a new home, in a new language, with hand-me-downs from Jewish charity. Meksin's installations reenact, again and again, this experience of emigration, as she makes colorful, feminine, racy costumes for walls, balconies, interiors, and even, in House Coat, the exterior of an entire two-story house. Her family's geographical, cultural, and linguistic relocation, she says, made her aware of how ungrounded our lives truly are, lending to her work its emphasis on masquerade, on lightness, on the play of opposing identities. Emigration also made her unusually aware of the power of names. Russian, the lost language of her childhood, assigns a gender—masculine, feminine, or neuter—to every object and idea, no matter how inanimate, and this gives birth to all manner of poetic possibility. Finding themselves, suddenly, to be gendered beings, the objects in Airplane, as well as her other works, learn to make themselves at home, to dress up, and, eventually, to take flight.
— Sophie Pinkham is writing a book about living in Ukraine.