Ireland’s residence at 500 Capp Street in San Francisco’s Mission District is widely considered the centerpiece of his prolific career. During the three decades he lived in the house, he embedded it with art and slowly evolved it into a site-specific installation that’s now regarded as the inspiration, source of materials, and repository for some of his most important work of the 1980s and 1990s.
Upon returning to San Francisco in the 1970s to settle down, Ireland purchased the dilapidated Italianate-style home and began implementing what he referred to as a 30-month “maintenance action”: removing window moldings, stripping wallpaper, sanding surfaces, and finally coating the walls, ceiling, and floors with high-gloss polyurethane varnish to preserve and highlight his modifications. His original intent was to clear out the House and use it as studio, but he soon grew to see the home in a sculptural way, perceiving his activity as an artistic endeavor more than a simple architectural renovation.
“I reached a philosophical point where I realized that the lively presence I was looking for in my art was here on the walls, as I stripped away and cleaned off the surfaces,” Ireland explained in a 1981 interview. “Why do we have to fabricate a stretcher, a canvas—why not just make art out of an environment? I couldn’t go back to normal work.”
Ireland’s art and life are so interwoven in the House that it’s difficult to distinguish between the art and non-art—distinctions irrelevant to him who, like many of his conceptual-art peers, sought to deliberately confuse these boundaries.
The House and its interventions showcase Ireland’s signature use of everyday materials and his rich sense of humor. Some examples include: