Invited to stage his retrospective at the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA), the Cuban-American artist Jorge Pardo put forward a number of radical preconditions. The first was that the exhibition should be two-dimensional. For Pardo – who situates his practice ‘in the cracks’ between furniture, design, architecture, sculpture, painting and public art – this was always going to be interesting. He rises to his self-set challenge with a single work in the form of photomural wallpaper that depicts a chronological journey through his practice from the late ‘80s to now.
Pardo’s wallpaper installation is punctuated with a social history of Los Angeles, his adopted home. This background information, which includes headlines drawn from the LA Times, may at times seem obtuse, but not when one considers that Pardo is an artist whose practice is inseparable from its context. Living and working in Los Angeles, this equates to the history of mid twentieth-century modernism. Architecture and design are the tools he uses to make his art. He says: “We have domestic architecture (in LA), but we don’t have the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. For me, what formed my understanding of space was experiencing rooms, places, houses.” 
Back in the late ‘90s when he built his own home as a work of art, one of his goals was to interrogate the conventions of exhibition-making. He revisits this enquiry with his IMMA retrospective. Once again, he sets himself a problem to resolve. This time, he queries the contemporary trajectory of representation in an age of image saturation. His photomural wallpaper can be read as the culmination of an enquiry as to how information can be presented in a different way. His solution, he believes, is “as intense as putting actual works in the space.” 
Can an interpretation be as intense as the ‘real thing’? At first, I was dubious. I wanted to experience his objects. When I initially stepped into the East Wing galleries at IMMA, I was secretly hoping to witness a format not unlike an earlier survey, Jorge Pardo: House at the Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami, which comprised an amalgamation of his sculpture, furniture, lighting and mural installations with photomurals of his off-site works. The groupings of these objects redefined the spaces of the museum as rooms in a house. And in each of these ‘rooms’ he incorporated mural-sized photographs of corresponding rooms taken in houses where he has installed his work.
Why was I so fixated on the objects, or rather their absence in IMMA? Pardo reminds us that his objects are merely ‘props’, and that their function is a decoy. He is more interested in the aesthetic implications of his work than its functional purpose as a boat, a bar or even his home. His goal is to create a discursive art that engenders social interaction: “When the things I make become information, that is when they are most interesting.”  And with this retrospective at IMMA, he certainly achieves this goal. The viewer is bombarded with multi-layered streams of information, an experience akin to rambling through a three-dimensional Internet. The entire installation functions like a rhizome with multiple access points on multiple levels for the viewer. By the time I had traversed the final room, I was beginning to come around to Pardo’s way of thinking, I was beginning to believe that “the discursive is an object with just as much tenure as the real thing.” 
This brings us to his second condition: that the catalogue should be three-dimensional and included in the exhibition. The result is comprised of conversations between Pardo and his various interlocutors, laser-etched into the laminate surfaces of a series of coffee tables displayed down the entire length of the East Wing corridor. And, maybe because the viewer is in danger of getting very dizzy walking around these tables following the various strands of conversation – a transcription also exists as virtual catalogue on YouTube. 
In her book, Art and architecture, a place between, Jane Rendell talks about the long history of architects producing their most innovative works as so-called ‘paper architecture’. Has Pardo created his most interesting work to date on paper? I think he might just have.
Emma Mahony is an independent curator and lecturer.