Barbara Bloom. Esprit de l’Escalier

Barbara Bloom, Esprit de l’Escalier, 1988. Mixed-media installation, 124 x 174 x 564 inches.
looking the tan archway are two other rooms the first having a lamp sitting in the center and the second room with a white table setting without chairs and a blue painting on the back wall
Barbara Bloom, Esprit de l’Escalier, 1988. Mixed-media installation, 124 x 174 x 564 inches. San José Museum of Art. Gift of Peter and Eileen Norton, 1991.01. Photo by Douglas Sandberg.

Esprit de l’escalier, which literally translates to “spirit of the stairs,” describes the moment when you realize what you should have said too late—you’ve left and are halfway down the stairs. Borrowing this expression for the title, Barbara Bloom’s 1988 installation captures a sense of the unknown. The end is visible from the entrance of its four successive rooms, but their enigmatic contents, framed and reframed as one moves through the spaces, suggest the limits of visibility.1 Framed Braille texts and words too small to read hang on the walls; a saucer-shaped dish holds a hologram of a pearl; a table setting with six porcelain plates is decorated with images of a Victorian séance; barely visible watermarks on sheets of backlit paper depict UFO sightings; and an eerie circle of white hats levitate in a blue room. Examining the relationship between perception, sensation, and physical experience, Bloom’s work questions the idea that seeing is believing.2 Her installation is a kind of innuendo, one in which the framework is clear but the content is obscure, inviting us to fill in the blanks—perhaps on the way down the stairs.

  1. Susan Tallman, The Collections of Barbara Bloom (New York: International Center for Photography, 2007), 158–59. ↩︎

  2. Lindsey M. Wylie, “Barbara Bloom,” in Selections: The San José Museum of Art Permanent Collection, ed. Susan Landauer (San José, CA: San José Museum of Art, 2004), 36. ↩︎