Originally Published November 24, 2013 on Carets and Sticks
As a newcomer to Los Angeles, I am still in an art honeymoon phase. Every weekend, new work pops up in galleries around the city, and every weekend we pilgrimage out to see it. I think much of going out to see work is about the ritual – the action of showing up, drinking a beer, and looking at a thing that someone else has intentionally put before you. Being open yet critical.
Like any honeymoon, mine with the LA scene has had it’s ups and downs – I admit that my last few visits to galleries have been a bit contentious. Let’s just say the work and I don’t always see eye to eye. But, last Saturday night a couple of LA galleries reminded me why I practice the ritual of visiting work every weekend.
The premise for Kim Ye’s exhibition Immediate Surroundings at OHWOW gallery unfolds as you experience each piece. I often approach shows without knowing much about the artist showing, or the conceptual ideas they are working with; often responding firstly to aesthetic and material language. Kim’s work shows her clear love affair with materials. One can imagine Ye in her studio knee deep in yards of latex, or at the sewing machine feverishly binding zipper to material. I felt Ye’s presence in the room watching me watch her work. A fascinating twist on voyeurism. The viewer becomes the thing being watch. Call me thick, but it wasn’t until I reached the last work in a counter-clockwise loop through the gallery that an underlying narrative began to unfold; connecting the body of work in the show. The last piece is the overtly figurative latex work titled A Man Around the House (Bubblegum). This piece suddenly snapped all of the other visual cues into context. It was as if I had solved a Whodunnit. Everything became portraiture, domestic, sexual, perverse. The large scale piece, Slash Fiction (whose materials include chains and latex) became spread legs. Even the sculptural pieces, made with latex, wood, and “personal lubricant”, became characterized; saggy yet sexy portraits. Bodies revealed. The laser cut metal blind pieces at first seemed like unrelated formal investigations into pattern and shape, but now they stood as a potent symbols of domestic enclosure and secrecy. We were inside. The blinds were pulled. While the work maintained a cohesive and lighthearted color palette, a sinister undertone began to emerge.
The press release for the show speaks of themes imperfect objects, castings that are meant to stand in for the originals. Duplicates. Sure. Yet, there is a gap in this logic – the viscerality of the objects perform a card trick in a way. They are outside of themselves while being heavily weighted to their own materiality, imbuing a nuanced narrative of place, body, and sexuality.
These themes are then cemented with juicy titles that accompany the work:Slash Fiction, A Man Around the House, Entice to Ensnare, No Reason to Leave. I haven’t read 50 Shades of Grey, but I suspect that there is a certain continuity between the cultural significance of the book, and the themes of domestic sexuality brought out in the titles of the works in Immediate Surroundings. The title Slash Fiction points to homoerotic fan novella. In A Man Around the House (Marigold), the lower half of a nude figure is reclining on a lounge chair. Yet, the imagery also implies that the figure is impeded by the chair – it’s latex straps bound around his leg (perhaps some 50 shades-esque BDSM). Is the artist tapping into themes of domestic sexual liberation? Commenting on the cultural phenom brought on by texts like 50 Shades of Grey? The work hits on many levels, and the speed with which these levels slowly unravel is something to be marveled at.
As I continued on my pilgrimage, I arrived to Patrick Jackson’s exhibit The Third Floor at Francois Ghebaly Gallery where I was greeted by a glass of white wine and a taco truck. There are perks to LA art watching. After a few tacos (I admit, I ate the free tacos before looking at the art), I stepped into the gallery.
This first step, onto a plush white carpet, sets the tone for the exhibition. As I meandered across it, my heels digging into the fibers, I felt very much dropped into a scene. A couple flat works hung amidst the carpet – the small black works shifted materiality in a Tony Matelli-esque way – beautiful investigations into form and material, but perhaps nothing to write home about.
I noticed a set of stairs, leading to a compressed basement about 3 feet below the floor. Crouching down and entering this bottom level was like stumbling across Wonka’s candy garden. Oversized ceramic mugs sat in groups – hidden in pockets behind rows of scaffold. I finally decided to delve into this low ceilinged basement – heels, skirt, wine and all (or as Johnny Cash would say “through the mud and the blood and the beer”)- to investigate the world that Patrick had quietly laid before me. Quiet as a kid whispering a secret in his friend’s ear kind of way. A soft, mischievous, curious quietness. Each vessel held a little microcosm; some pristine, some goopy and abject – all uniquely beautiful. Each one demanded to be approached with a certain wonderment. I recalled the carpet, and the wall pieces that I encountered before the basement. Like Wonka’s factory, the magic was hidden behind a stark front. Whatever contrast those pieces had between the basement work (both formally and in coloration), allowed the basement work to entice the imagination to a further degree.
Like an animal on the prowl, I continued upstairs, hoping to uncover some other unexpected treasures. The gallery housed only a cherub like figure made in black, and dressed in black with hollowed out eyes. He stood facing the balcony window, As if he too wanted to look down on the white carpet below. The glowing white plush seemed so far and oppositional to his cold black presence. “Is that what my hair looks like?” A man asked his friends while motioning to the figure’s thin abrupt bull cut. Pause. “I’m going to say yes,” his female friend responded. Yikes.
There was a moment in this gallery when trying to leave, I got stuck in between a group of people and the wall, and was pinned face to face with the black cherub. I squirmed to get free – there was something about that thing that was extremely unnerving.
While each level of this show held captivating moments – the basement a wonderland, the carpeted main floor a nice investigation into form, and this top level a moment of uncanny, it is in connecting the three levels that the problematics of the work arise. The title of the show, The Third Floor, further problematized the installation for me. It puts weight on the figure on the third floor, and creates a sort of conceptual hierarchy between the work. The basement, outfitted with scaffold and crude lighting, then implies a heavy handed cast-aside-ness in contrast to the angelic presentation of the third floor figure. Like a rug pulled out from under me, the quiet curiosity that I had felt while exploring the basement fled on the third floor.
I recently listened to a Bad at Sports podcast with Duncan Mackenzie interviewing Amanda Ross Ho – Duncan asked her if something like a Biggy Smalls poster could just be Biggy Smalls poster in her work. She roundaboutly came to the conclusion that it could, but in her work the Biggy Small poster stands as a sign – a signifier that triggers a mechanism in your brain. While Amanda’s work operates within these types of semiotics, in The Third Floor, I want the Biggy Smalls poster to be a Biggy Smalls poster. I want a basement filled with beautiful ceramics to be a basement filled with beautiful ceramics. I don’t want a basement filled with beautiful ceramics to be a signifier into issues of class, human relationships, or worse – to call attention to undervalued objects or things cast aside. This is where the literal third floor of the gallery proved to be a bit of a lynchpin for me.
Still, both Immediate Surroundings and The Third Floor, were a sight for sore eyes. They challenged me intellectually, and delighted me formally. I guess my LA art honeymoon will go on a little longer.