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ART REVIEW : Rhoades' Works Overwhelm--on Purpose

March 26, 1994|SUSAN KANDEL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Anything overwhelming commands attention by virtue of sensory overload: too big, too loud, too much. It's a cheat only if there's nowhere else the work wants to (or can) go, as with Frank Stella's hyperbolic reliefs of the 1980s, Robert Longo's sculptural hysterics and many of Cady Noland's aggressively low-brow scatter pieces.

Jason Rhoades' new work overwhelms but does so as a means to an end. That is not to suggest the artist doesn't take his sweet time alternately frustrating and mesmerizing an audience, who is confronted with an excess of weirdly dysfunctional stuff custom-crafted for urbanites in the throes of one or another transitional crises.

We're talking Styrofoam bookcases; area rugs made of stapled yellow index cards; bedroom and kitchen ensembles made of cardboard boxes swaddled in sheets of yellow legal paper; pick-up truck seats covered in yellow sheepskin with bananas stuck in the folds; a combination ceramic kiln and stereo made of tin foil; plastic waste buckets; paper bushel baskets; discarded burrito wrappers and enough ersatz, domesticated, would-be landfill to cover every inch of the Rosamund Felsen Gallery.

This back-handed paean to home improvement is quite pointedly titled "Swedish Erotica and Fiero Parts." The Fiero, a short-lived model introduced by Pontiac in 1984, was an American product fabricated to marry Japanese efficiency and Italian style; a yellow one is parked in the gallery's lot. A commercial flop, the car emblematizes sham design. It also represents a desire to cultivate a rarefied aesthetic impossibly at odds with an indigenous style.

"Swedish Erotica" works similarly here. It conjures a U.S. company whose name capitalizes upon the allure of European sex films of the 1960s--from "Wild Strawberries" to "I Am Curious (Yellow)"--to market home-grown sleaze.

"I Am Curious (Yellow)" might be the subtitle of this show, with its surfeit of yellow and its spiraling references to another borrowed Swedish aesthetic, the tremendously successful Ikea chain, which peddles prefabricated furnishings to Americans equally enamored of a national tradition of handcrafting and a murky vision of Continental high style.

With sweaty intensity, Rhoades redoubles our double fixation. Ironically, his fervor illustrates the politics of inauthenticity while arguing for the artist's passion for his tools, his materials and the fabulous (if essentially useless) things he can do with them.

* Rosamund Felsen Gallery, 8525 Santa Monica Blvd., (310) 652-9172, through April 16. Closed Sunday and Monday.

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