Wednesday, December 16, 2009

visiting The Christmas House

When I was young, one of my favorite Christmas activities was going to this Christmas building in New Jersey. Everything was Christmas, and it was about a half hour of walking through Christmas scene after Christmas scene. My grandparents took my brother and I, so it was also "dress up" day. After all, you couldn't go to the Christmas building without dressing up in your best outfit!

So it made me very happy to find the Bronx version of my Christmas building, and that is The Christmas House, located in Pelham Gardens. I've been noticing The Christmas House for years now; even when it's not Christmas season, the pink paint and styling is seen, and sensed, from about a quarter of a mile away. With a toddler in tow this year, we had to visit it at night, when we could see the house in all its nighttime lighting and glamour.

Unfortunately, not all of the glamour was visible during our visit; since it'd rained a couple of days earlier, there was still a bit of dampness, and one of the family's daughters/installation creators was outside vacuuming the side of the house's concrete pink floor when we arrived. And most of the life-sized figures were wrapped in plastic. There is such an effort made on this installation (each figure repainted every year; $1,000 weekly electricity bills during the viewing season; etc.) that it's only completely visible when there's not a chance that it's going to rain.

Since almost all of the mannequins/models/figures had clear plastic wrap around them, a few questions came to mind: Since this is such an over-the-top, gaudy display, does the plastic wrap actually help me enjoy the installation better? Is this outsider art? Are the people who live here insane? What percentage of people who visit this house think it's beautiful? Why?!

I have a relative who LOVES sculpture that looks like The Christmas House. The over-use of pastel shades conveys delusional optimism. My husband says that the color palette is perhaps Victorian. He also says that a theory recently emerged that Roman statues and sculptures were also brightly painted.

Of course, another obsession illustrated at The Christmas House is the "importance" of celebrities. While talking to the daughter, she matter-of-factly told me "who" was inside, waiting to come out: Michael, Elizabeth, Brigitte, and more. To me, the models partying behind the glass sliding door has always been the most bizarre part of this installation, having nothing to do with Christmas and everything to do with status quo. (The middle-aged daughter also expressed that it would always be "Hollywood".)

I'll be back next year. The daughter gave us the house's phone number so that we could call ahead and find out when all of the mannequins are uncovered and outside, so as not to waste a trip. But I'm just as happy to see them wrapped in plastic, living life fully without regards to time, but physically looking "caught in the past".

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