Armstrong Linoleum in Smithsonian Exhibit
Nearly 2,000 square feet of custom-designed flooring displayed as part of exhibit featuring work of Spanish sculptor, Juan
As incongruous as it may seem, linoleum, a traditional floor covering that has been in use for over a hundred years, is serving
as an art form in an exhibit of contemporary sculpture.
Nearly 2,000 square feet of boldly patterned, custom-designed Armstrong linoleum was recently on display at the Smithsonian’s
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC, as part of an exhibit featuring the work of Juan Muñoz, a highly
regarded contemporary Spanish artist who reinvigorated figurative sculpture in the late 1980’s. Following its Washington showing,
the exhibit will travel to museums in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Houston.
The artist, who died unexpectedly in August 2001 at the age of 48, often created room-size environments and stage-like settings
populated by anonymous figures. Two of his works in the exhibit, The Wasteland and The Prompter, include sharply patterned floors as an integral part of the artwork. The works also illustrate the artist’s propensity for
creating complex settings for the viewer to traverse both mentally and physically.
Patterned Floor Integral Element of Artistic Environment
Titled after T.S. Eliot’s poem, The Wasteland urges visitors to cross a bold, geometrically patterned floor and enter the physical environment of the artwork. The geometry
of the floor pattern appears to undulate and creates the illusion that the space is in motion. Across the room, a bronze ventriloquist’s
dummy sits on a ledge, looking out toward the spectator. The figure’s gaze seems to bridge the distance and eventually brings
the viewer into the space.
According to Olga Viso, the Hirshhorn’s curator of contemporary art, this was the first of several instances in which the
artist created patterned floors as an element in his sculptural environment. "For Muñoz," she states, "the floor suggested
the stage and the complex psychological relationship between the sculptural figure and the viewer."
Muñoz himself noted, "The floor developed out of a desire to build something that was real, something people could walk across…It
was also a necessary device for locating the figure…The floor becomes a gigantic prop for such a piece."
The Prompter, like The Wasteland, also includes a boldly patterned floor, but is more obviously a stage because it is raised off the ground. One of several
sculptures that involves dwarves, this piece is viewed from the perspective of the audience and features a small prompter’s
box with only half of the dwarf visible.
Armstrong Linoleum Chosen for Exhibits
So that Munoz’s first American traveling show could include these pivotal works – one owned by collectors Marvin and Elayne
Mordes of Baltimore and the other by the artist’s estate in Spain – the Hirshhorn approached Armstrong to custom-create both
exhibit floors in linoleum for its own space in Washington, as well as for future venues in Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston.
Measuring nearly 1,500 square feet, The Wasteland floor is inspired by centuries-old trompe l’oeil designs and features a 3-dimensional-like pattern. It is comprised of three
colors from Armstrong's UNI WALTON line -- Beige, Zinc and Black. UNI WALTON is Armstrong’s line of solid-colored linoleum
that features a smooth finish.
The Prompter floor features a series of triangles that, when placed together, almost give the appearance of a quilt. Muñoz used a combination
of two colors to create this floor-- one from Armstrong’s MARMORETTE™ line, and the other from the COLORETTE™ line. The MARMORETTE line features the fine marbling characteristics of classic linoleum, while COLORETTE features brighter,
more vibrant color.
Armstrong executive sales representative, Doug Schmauder, was actively involved in the project. Recalling the early stages,
he notes that because of the intricacy of the floor designs, "We knew that teamwork and coordination between artist, manufacturer,
fabricator and installer were going to be keys to the success of the project."
Custom Fabrication Involved over 6,000 Pieces
Custom fabrication of all the pieces required to create the floor patterns was done by Waterjet Works! of Dallas, TX. The Wasteland floor required the cutting of 6,000 individual pieces -- 2,000 pieces each of the three colors. The Prompter required over 600 pieces – 300-plus each of two colors.
According to company president, Philip Einsohn, the most enjoyable part of the exhibit is watching people as they approach
The Wasteland. "They usually stop at the entryway because they’re not sure if they’re allowed to walk on the floor or not. Some will even
bend down and touch the floor to make sure it’s one-dimensional. As a result, they’ve now become involved in the artwork,
which is exactly what the artist wanted to transpire."
Challenging Installation Because of Multitude of Pieces
Flooring Solutions, Inc., of Sterling, VA, was responsible for the installation of the intricate floors. Four mechanics required
two days to install the floors. The Wasteland floor was cemented directly to the existing concrete floor, while The Prompter floor was cemented to a wooden subfloor that had to be installed to create the raised stage.
According to the firm’s president, Faizi Syed, the biggest benefit of the project is that it gives architects and designers
ideas. "It shows them what can be done. By seeing something like this, they should feel more comfortable expressing themselves,
and should not be afraid to be creative. They should feel that if they can draw it, we can do it. All it takes is the right
combination of manufacturer, fabricator, and installer."
And, of course, an architect or designer who has a whole new view of traditional linoleum, not only as an art medium, but
also as a modern 21st century flooring material.