Jason Rhoades Tijuanatanjierchandelier (2006) welcomes visitors as they enter the Hauser Wirth & Schimmel gallery complex of the downtown Los Angeles arts district.
Hauser Wirth & Schimmel’s Los Angeles galleries are now inhabited by the esoteric and controversial installations of Jason Rhoades. This posthumous retrospective is his largest exhibition in Los Angeles, the city where he lived and worked. Jarring, flashy, intricate and abstrusely political these works are grounds for a viewer to get lost. As I wander through the installations peculiarities ignite my curiosity—homemade donuts scatter the terrain of My Brother/Brancuzi and there is a stuffed snake on an electric train choo-chooing through My Creation Myth. The choice of certain materials such as Egyptian hookah pipes and tourist paraphernalia from Tijuana and Tangier appear profoundly considered, and yet the placement of everything is intuitive and blasé.
A donut-machine sits center front in My Brother/Brancuzi (1995). Donuts crawl in and out of the rest of the installation, at moments acting in towers of excess and at other times mashed into crevices or mingling with the occasional bagel.
Trinkets from Tijuana, Mexico and Tangier, Morocco, are placed on blankets reminiscent to the way they are sold to tourists in these border cities for Tijuanatanjierchandelier.
During the press preview I stand in The Black Pussy… and the Pagan Idol Worship looking up at Rhoades’ neon ‘pussy word’ signs that have gained him so much notoriety. I overhear a man say he used to consider Rhoades an important up-and-coming artist and write about his work, but it was too much when he started with the signs. The next installation, My Madinah. In pursuit of hermitage…, is also adorned with neon signs of slang terms for female genitalia hanging from the ceiling. Towels cover the floor of this gallery, super-glued together in an American reference to the prayer mats of a mosque. A woman sits next to me on the bench, both of us taking off our shoe covers after walking over this expanse of towels. She wonders aloud if Rhoades’ use of these taboo references to female genitalia is or was ever relevant. Is provocation the purpose? Is he, like Santiago Serra, using his position to play ‘the bad guy’ and make a point about the facility of male macho-ism? Or are these neon references to the vagina simply doing what all loud and vulgar portrayals of female sex do… get attention? Whether the ‘pussy word’ signs are a means to an end or an attempt to own flashy taboos they may not sit well with feminists then or now. Paul Schimmel, the exhibition’s curator, says the gallery hopes that this show will open Jason to the next generation of artists. This next generation is however deeply concerned with political correctness, and may or may not be able to fathom a meaning from the work beyond coarse sensationalism.
Though Jason Rhoades lived, studied and made his work in California, his success as an artist was abroad. This may have been America’s overlooking of the poignant poetics of his installations as piles of junk. I would however suggest that it is the exposure of how an American mind works that fascinates Europeans. In his installations we see a complex processing of what identity politics means for an American man. Jason’s installations expose tormented thoughts that ride under the surface of everything we consider suburbanly normal. Wandering through the galleries is a jerky journey of curiosity and offense sure to stir up emotions of one variety or another.
Jason Rhoades Installations are on view at Hauser Wirth & Schimmel through 21 May 2017.
By: Lara Salmon