Originally Published on contemporaryartreview.la on July 15, 2015
The title of Mark Hagen’s new exhibition at JOAN, The Outdoor Type, evokes a line-up of bearded men. This visual, in many ways, contrasts the spectacle Hagen has created, which is seemingly much more about indoor and commercial spaces. His centerpiece, Ramada JOAN (2015), consists of zigzagging metal beams that create a structure resembling a stage; in other words, a platform on which to disseminate information. A platform within the platform of the gallery space, much like the accoutrements found in a hotel lobby during a condo sales pitch, say.
This staged structure is akin to Simon Denny’s current trade-show-cum-exhibition at MoMA PS1 (New York). On the stage apparatus, Denny piles gratuitous information, mimicking the oversaturation of internet culture. Unlike Denny, Hagen punctuates the sterility of his built form with moments of more hand crafted (though still industrialized) processes. His role shifts between informant and explorer. The structure’s roof, made from melted down tire rims, is an enjoyable escapade into metal casting. Crisscrossing patterns and linework are overlaid with no recognizable organization, and seams from the casting process are left to flay out in messy edges.
Yet, the explorer soon turns anthropoligist as one comes across more literal, and didactic, aspects of the installation. A small arrowhead curiously plays center stage, proudly exhibited atop a paper pulp covered pedestal. The arrowhead—touts the material list—is in fact a 80,000-40,000 year-old Neanderthal hand axe, while the paper is a pulped copy of Claude Lévi-Strauss’ The Savage Mind. In the book, Lévi-Strauss distinguished between two modes of thought: scientific (forging new systems of knowledge) and mythical (responding to and learning from culture). The artist, posited Lévi-Strauss, exists somewhere amidst these two categories. AsJanine Mileaf explains, “The artist produces something that is both real and not the thing itself.”
Our artist seems to embody the middle ground between these two roles, but he also presents a third—capitalist. While the more organic moments of the installation act as a visual break and conceptual counterpoint to the harsh industrial line work of the structure, these organic flourishes are constantly pushed to the exterior, continuously upstaged by the cold apparatus of “the sale.” They appear out of the corner of the eye, almost as a postscript, being shouldered out of the scene. It is unclear if Hagen is illustrating Lévi-Strauss’s theories or emulating them. Yet, it is clear that the outdoorsman is out, the salesman is in.
The Outdoor Type runs July 11 – August 9, 2015 at JOAN (4300 W Jefferson Boulevard #1, Los Angeles, CA 90016).