From Ai Weiwei to Marina Abramovic, 12 Artists Who Made Artworks for Us to Sleep In

Artsy Editorial
Oct 21, 2016 6:28PM

In 2013, Tilda Swinton drew crowds to the Museum of Modern Art when she appeared, slumbering peacefully, on a white mattress in a glass box—presenting sleep as a work of art to behold. Other artists have crafted works that encourage gallery- and museum-goers to drift off into dreamland themselves. From an open-air bedroom on a Swiss mountainside to a pod marooned in an Amsterdam sandscape, here are 12 works of art that you can (or could once) sleep in.

Various artists, “UrbanCampSite Amsterdam,” 2015

Photo by Anouska Ricard. Courtesy of UrbanCampSite Amsterdam.

In summer 2015, Annette van Driel and Francis Nijenhuis invited campers from all over the world to their outdoor exhibition-cum-campsite on Centrumeiland, one of 10 artificial islands being built in Amsterdam’s IJmeer lake, soon to be transformed into residential neighborhoods. Sprawled across a sandy wasteland, the 14 eclectic works of mobile art featured in “UrbanCampSite Amsterdam” included a house constructed of shrinkwrap, a “survival capsule” with hemispheric look-out windows, and a tent topped with a trampoline. Largely built using recyclable materials, the works encouraged their inhabitants to reflect on home and the environment in relation to sustainability.

Antony Gormley, ROOM, 2014

Photo by Steve White. Courtesy of the artist and White Cube.

Photo by David Grandorge. Courtesy of the artist and White Cube.


A geometric human figure, the external portion of this “inhabitable sculpture” by renowned British sculptor Gormley, sits perched atop the southern wing of the Beaumont, a hotel in London’s ritzy Mayfair district. Forming a stark contrast with the hotel’s pristine neo-Georgian facade, the cluster of cubic forms contains a suite—which starts at £1,420 a night—complete with a high-ceiling bedroom, living room, pure white marbled bathroom, and large windows shrouded in blackout curtains. Unveiling the work in 2014, Gormley dubbed it a “hermit’s cave; a primal space within the city but removed from the city entirely”—a description that’s fitting within his practice, which often investigates the human body in relation to the urban environment.

Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, The House of Dreams, 2005

Installation view from the exhibition “Ilya and Emilia Kabakov: House of Dreams”, Serpentine Gallery, London (19 October 2005 - 8 January 2006). Photo © 2005 Jerry Hardman-Jones.

Since the early 1990s, Long Island-based duo Ilya and Emilia Kabakov have created immersive “total” installations that allude to elements of history, literature, philosophy, and art. In 2005, they transformed the Serpentine Galleries into a dreamlike labyrinth of bedrooms, including white tomb-like cubes shut off from the outside world and corridors lined with surgical curtains, looking out on the surrounding Kensington Gardens. One critic described the space as “distinctively Russian,” evoking both the architecturally intricate interior of St. Basil’s church in Moscow and the sterility of the space station in Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1972 film Solaris.

Ricardo Basbaum, Capsules (NBP x me-you), 2000

Photo by @lilybonesso, via Instagram.

In the mid-’90s, Brazilian artist and writer Basbaum launched “New Bases for Personality” (NBP), an ongoing theory-based project—including both manifestos and installations staged all over the world—to explore concepts like human interaction and visual cognition. At the Tate Modern’s “Between Object and Architecture” exhibition, his cage-like “bed-capsules” lie partially open, inviting weary (or Instagram-savvy) museum visitors to crawl inside and become active participants in the work. A cryptic wall drawing and lecture soundtrack further reflect his interest in the science of communication.

Alfredo Barsuglia, Hotel Publik, 2013

Alfredo Barsuglia, Hotel Publik, Innsbruck / Austria, 2013–14. Photo by Alfredo Barsuglia.

Perched in front of Innsbruck’s palatial Tyrolean State Museum for three chilly winter months, Barsuglia’s Hotel Publik (2013)—measuring just two meters in height and two-and-a-half in length—allowed anyone to take shelter within its miniscule walls. Inside, you would find all your basic necessities: a twin bed, radiator, light, and even a few books for your solitary pleasure. With no reception desk in sight, the “hotel” had only two rules, listed on its exterior: check in by noon and check out by 10 a.m.

Martha Araújo, “Para um corpo…”, 1987

Galeria Jaqueline Martins & PM8, Live section, Frieze London 2016.  Photo by Linda Nylind, courtesy of Linda Nylind/Frieze.

Figure and materiality have played a prominent role in Araújo’s performances since the 1980s. At Frieze London’s Live section earlier this month, she showed her “Para um corpo…” (“for a body...”) series of mattress-like works exploring the human form as both fragment and whole. Carved in the human form, these foamy sculptures had people lying inside and on top of them, offering both leisure and relaxation to fair-goers and their children.

Frank and Patrik Riklin, Null Stern Hotel, 2016

Photo © Null Stern.

This summer, twin conceptual artists Frank and Patrik Riklin placed a bed atop a Swiss mountain and charged visitors 250 Swiss francs per night to sleep under the sky. It marked the second iteration of the pair’s Null Stern Hotel, first realized in 2009, when they transformed a 1980s Swiss fallout shelter into a commercial space that sleeps 14. A dig at luxury hotel brands busy adding a sixth, even seventh star to their ratings, they promote a “zero-star” concept (Null Stern’s motto: “the only star is you”). Although the 2016 summer season ended in August, the hotel is currently accepting reservations for 2017, with plans to install some 25 additional beds across the Swiss countryside.

Carsten Höller, Two Roaming Beds (Grey), 2015

© Carsten Höller. Photo by David Levene.

Höller has a history of crafting works that allow museum- or gallery-goers a once-in-a-lifetime overnight experience. In 2008, he installed a functional rotating bed near the top of the Guggenheim’s rotunda in New York. In 2010, visitors could pay to sleep with live reindeer (and enjoy a nightcap made from the animals’ potentially hallucinogenic urine) in a former Berlin railway station. And most recently, in 2015, he introduced a pair of robotic beds that cruised through London’s Hayward Gallery as participants snoozed. At £300 for two per night, the experience also included tubes of gendered toothpastes, concocted by Höller himself “to induce and influence male- and female-oriented dreams.”

Jorge Pardo, Spare Bedroom, 2014

Courtesy of the artist and Petzel, New York.

Pardo’s work has always walked the line between art, sculpture, and design. His first piece to make waves in the art world was his self-designed Los Angeles home, built on commission for the city’s Museum of Contemporary Art and exhibited for five weeks in 1998 (after which time Pardo moved in). More than a decade and a half later, Pardo explored similar themes when he constructed a spare bedroom inside New York’s Petzel Gallery for a 2014 solo show. Outfitted with a pink shag rug and a mattress, the structure was intended for visitors to explore—to step inside, peer through the multi-colored panes of glass, and even lie back on the bed and close their eyes.

Ai Weiwei, Aus der Aufklärung, 2013

Photo by Eric Gregory Powell. Courtesy of Emscherkunst.

Banned from foreign travel in 2013, Chinese political activist and artist Ai crafted the tents for this German installation (its title translates to “Out of Enlightenment”) from his studio in Beijing. The 1,000 temporary shelters—each featuring one of ten designs inspired by the artist’s previous works—were pitched alongside the Emscher River as a part of the Emscherkunst triennial arts festival in western Germany. Visitors could rent them for a low, symbolic price; Ai emphasized the “human dimensions” of the work, unlike the monumental scale of many of his installations.

Marina Abramović, Sleeping Exercise, 2014

Marina Abramovic, Sleeping Exercise at Art Basel in Miami Beach, 2014. Photo by Mark Niedermann.

Art fairs can be many things, but “restful” is typically not one of them. At Art Basel in Miami Beach, Abramović changed that with a cluster of camp beds set up at Fondation Beyeler’s booth. Although the Serbian artist is best known for her performances that test the limits and endurance of the human body, in recent years she’s turned her focus to teaching what she’s labeled the “Abramović Method”—a series of activities meant to slow the pace of 21st-century life and allow people to live in the moment. In that spirit, Sleeping Exercise instructed participants to stash their electronics in nearby lockers, don noise-cancelling headphones, and lie down to escape the commotion of the fair.

Allen Ruppersberg with Public Fiction, Al’s Grand Hotel, 2014

Frieze Projects 2014: Al's Grand Hotel (1971) with Public Fiction (2014). Photo by Marco Scozzaro, courtesy of Marco Scozzaro / Frieze.

In 1971, American conceptual artist Allen Ruppersberg converted an aging house on Sunset Boulevard into a lively hotel-cum-artwork. Each of the seven rooms had a theme, ranging from the “Jesus Room” (guests had to step over an enormous wooden cross to reach the bed) to the “Al Room” (chock full of life-size cardboard cutouts of Ruppersberg). More than 40 years later, experimental exhibition space Public Fiction revived the work at Frieze New York. Taking inflation into account, a room that cost no more than $30 in 1971 went for as much as $375 in 2014.

—Abigail Cain and Demie Kim

Artsy Editorial