What else would Tita Cicognani put in a Hammer Projects space for a summer solo exhibition but a hot tub? It’s the work’s third iteration, and the first time it’s been installed in a museum. Having seen but never gone inside the other two (the first at a studio space in Chinatown and the second at the artist-run gallery Leroy’s), I figured, at the Hammer, I had to. At the gallery door a museum staffer informs visitors about the tub, asking if they have an appointment (which one needs in order to go inside the water). If you don’t have one, you can make one on the spot, granted there’s availability. It’s very similar to a walk-in at a massage parlor, complete with forms waiving the Hammer’s liability for potential injuries, etc. Each reservation is forty-five minutes on the hour, with a fifteen-minute general cleaning between appointments. The water, I had heard, was replaced every Monday. I was there on a Friday.
An exhibition at the Hammer with a hot tub sounds like a gimmick. The room itself is a sort of extradimensional motel-lobby-meets-movie- theater basement. It’s lined floor to ceiling with greenish-gray carpet, which oddly seems clean and doesn’t emit a smell (though come October, who knows). A negligible amount of light is emitted by red LEDs that run along the joints between walls; more prominent is the glare coming from one of the corners, where a large monitor hanging from the ceiling plays the looped video I Still Believe (2022) and which is best viewed from within the tub. The space of the room mirrors the space within the video, suggesting that the actions in the video might be carried out by visitors to the exhibition. In the video, a green, female-presenting avatar walks around while contemplating solitude and the possibility of entering the tub, which she does. She finds, to her amusement, that going in means expanding out into the universe. The avatar roams around planets and eventually returns to the motel room, where, through the window, she is penetrated and impregnated by the beam of a UFO. The conclusion is that she gives birth to an alien baby. The video plays against a soundtrack of slowed-down pop songs.
The exhibition’s centerpiece is Heart Tub (2022). It’s the fully functional jacuzzi visitors can enter and which accommodates up to four. It’s “open-air,” unlike the artist’s earlier versions, which were fully enclosed spaces lined with mirrors. Heart Tub is, on first glance, less private, though once inside, the red vinyl walls feel higher than expected. The feeling is encapsulating, intimate, maybe a perfect place to fuck or masturbate. Though the museum staff explains that they must be present in the space while you’re in the tub, once inside it’s hard to imagine they can tell what’s going on. The more disturbing part was when I looked up and found that I was being watched by a lady who had wandered into the room. Though I had declined, there was the option to have a private session.
It was some time later, standing in front of a Vuillard in the Old Masters gallery, that I figured out the real hack of Cicognani’s work. My bathing suit had soaked through my jeans. Appointments frame your day; a full soak in Tita Cicognani’s exhibition alters it. It’s not fun to be damp in general, and it’s really weird to be damp with hot- tub water while looking at art. Which is why putting a hot tub in the Hammer transcends the gimmick. In its lingering there is the subtlety of an artist fucking with a museum and its programming. Roaming into an upstairs exhibition featuring works about the moon is to somewhat carry out the narrative of I Still Believe. And with a film of Cicognani’s hot tub water on your skin, it is all the more perverse.