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TO APRIL 28
In No Exit, Jean-Paul Sartre envisioned hell as a small, plain room with Second Empire furniture. Lars Tunbjörk, a Swedish photographer, pictures hell as the modern, modular office space. To assemble his 79-photograph exhibit at the Swedish Embassy, Tunbjörk hopscotched from Tokyo to New York City to Sioux Falls, S.D.—though you’d never guess it from the images he ended up with. Wherever he went, Tunbjörk discovered the same architecturally enforced alienation. Whereas the pre-occupancy photographs he took often feature harmonies of industrial grays, everything falls apart once the employees move in. If it isn’t a man contorting himself to fix telephone cables, it’s a pair of Swedish salarymen eyeing the cafeteria’s special du jour through the glass of an airless display case. Occasionally, a winking humor emerges—the absurdist blizzard of paper being shuffled on the floor of a New York law office (Lawyer’s Office/Advokatbyrå, New York is pictured), the tie inadvertently left hanging out in a room of closed lockers, the figure of a woman racing through a chaotic office in heels. More often, the tone is set by the ubiquitous fluorescent lighting, which is only made more nauseating by Tunbjörk’s use of harsh flashes. Still, as bad as the prefab vibe is, it’s the little touches of “personality” that really sap the viewer’s spirit: the half-eaten plate of beef and potatoes on one drone’s desk, the disembodied stocking feet sticking out from below a computer table, the snack crumbs left after a meeting, the butt print embossed on the seat of a leather chair. This misanthropic exhibition is dispiriting enough to leave viewers craving some face time with Garcin, Inez, and Estelle in that Second Empire room. The show is on view from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, to Wednesday, April 28, at the Embassy of Sweden, 1501 M St. NW. Free. (202) 467-2642. (Louis Jacobson)