Jason Rhoades, who lived and worked in Los Angeles up until his death in 2006, created amazing, over-the-top, often overwhelming, generally disorienting installations. Using neon, plastic buckets, power tools, snaking wires, figurines, sound and other odds and ends Rhoades created work that is engaging, witty and visually spectacular.
Known as “scatter art,” Rhoades’ environments combine a multiplicity of ideas. In works like The Creation Myth, originally installed in 1998, and now re-created for his retrospective at the ICA in Philadelphia, Rhoades created sculptural forms representing how humanity processes information, forms memories and produces things like art. The work often contains biographical, sexual and sometimes outright vulgar elements that require a viewer’s patience and open-mindedness. Seemingly arbitrary, each artifact has its purpose within Rhoades’ installations.
Overloading a viewer with information and visual content replete with metaphors and symbols, Rhoades purposefully creates his installations to avoid finite conclusions. In many ways Rhoades’ works mirror human thought—they layer information and content in seemingly incoherent ways forming multiple, usually incomplete notions and assumptions.
Rhoades’ retrospective will be on view at the Philadelphia ICA through December 29.
Joe Davidson creates beautiful sculptures from plaster sunflowers. Devoid of color, the hanging bouquets look as though they could be bones, bleached coral, or some other organic form drained of life. The Los Angeles-based artist is interested in repetition. A tradition based in Minimalism—repeating the same form over and over again—Davidson’s flowers are less about Minimalism and more about material. Davidson is interested in allowing an idea to be driven by the inherent quality and symbolism of the material used. Through the similar plaster casts (all are cast by hand), Davidson is creating shadows of the original. The mass production generates an effect whereby individual elements become part of a uniform, monochromatic whole.
Davidson strives to allow viewers to consider that which surrounds us; he wants to show beauty in the mundane and the individual within the mass. Subtle yet stunning, Davidson’s floral sculptures are like three-dimensional still lives, conceptually engaging and visually appealing.
Alejandro Guzman focuses his artistic practice on the idea of creative misunderstandings through art. Guzman uses performance, sculpture, painting, drawing, photography and video to explore his interest in human nature, behavior, migration, consumption and materialism. A Puerto Rican artist living and working in New York there are cultural and historical references to indigenous folklore traditions, colonialism and storytelling combined with European and American modernism throughout Guzman’s work.
Also interested in shared human experiences, Guzman designs performances and art objects that offer experience and provoke thought. For his exhibition, Intellectual Derelict, Guzman created a sculptural performance object, a dual character, one half covered in colorful flowers and drawings and the other in mirrors and black-and-white drawings. The figure was involved in three performances that were meant to enhance a viewer’s experience with the natural world. For another performance for AD Projects, Guzman wore a modified Vejigante mask. El Vejigante is a historical figure generally part of Puerto Rican festivals. He was born out of Spanish Christianity, West African Yoruba rites and Taino aesthetics. The figure both embraces and resists his multifaceted roots and represents the ability to live both inside and outside society.
Always incorporating industrial and natural materials as well as his own drawings and sculptures, Guzman’s creations and performances are thoughtful, insightful and visually engaging.
Luis Camnitzer is a German-born Uruguayan artist who currently lives in New York. A conceptual artist, working mainly in printmaking, sculpture and installation, Camnitzer’s work explores subjects such as social injustice, repression and institutional critique. His work is often witty, if not biting, and generally has political undertones punctuated by the use of language.
With beginnings in the Conceptual tradition of the 1960s and 70s, much of Camnitzer’s earlier works are text-based. Though he has lived in New York for many years, Camnitzer’s work also deals largely with ideas tied to his native homeland. His Uruguayan Torture Series from the early 80s demonstrate his interest in social and political issues regarding an individual in society. Camnitzer juxtaposes images with text containing connotations of violence. Subtle, Camnitzer leaves the viewer to decide his or her role as a spectator to the “disappeared” in Latin America. Leftovers, 1970, consists of several boxes stacked against a gallery wall. Each individually bandaged and stained with red paint, the word “leftovers” is stenciled on the sides. The piece evokes the idea of dismembered body parts and the work as a whole represents the political turbulence and violence that was happening in Uruguay and other Latin American countries during that time.
Some have written about Camnitzer’s work as a kind of poetry whereby Camnitzer has explored the way words function visually rather than verbally. Though Camnitzer denies this interpretation, there is an undoubted rhythm to his work that feels like prose with or without the inclusion of text. His 2001-02 installation of real books cemented into place feels completely lyrical in nature. The books are fortified in place, protected for all time. This piece embodies the part pessimistic, part romantic aspect that runs through much of Camnitzer’s work.
Nicholas Nyland is a Washington-based artist who creates paintings, sculptures and installations. Stating that his work is “driven by a fascination with the life of form, the nature of creation and the will to decorate,” Nyland makes works that are abstract, but contain references to history and traditional craft sources. Embracing abstraction because as he says, “it is generous and capacious, able to absorb and then release a multitude of references,” Nyland does in fact draw from a myriad of sources. For his most recent solo show in Seattle, Physical Speculations on a Future State, Nyland incorporated inspiration from Chinese scholar’s stones, Japanese gardens, Early American decorative traditions and 1970s design. Despite such wide-ranging influences, Nyland manages to create works that are at once formally engaging and conceptually inquisitive. Nyland leaves room for a viewer to consider material, gesture and form, but enigmatic historical references also provide inquiry into the way we define and identify objects.
There is lightheartedness to Nyland’s work that borders on humorous. A viewer can tell that Nyland enjoyed making whatever object she is observing. The lack of seriousness involved in Nyland’s works further promotes active questioning about material, influence and formal choice. Moreover, the tactile quality of Nyland’s work makes it all the more engaging. Bordering on craft with some of his works, Nyland’s pieces are all distinctly handmade. There is a purposeful clumsiness to them that is charming and endearing.
Elaine Reicheck is a New York-based artist who uses embroidery to explore conceptual and aesthetic ideas in art. Though she has a background in painting, actually receiving an MFA from Yale in the subject, she began to question her training and wonder what kind of statement she wanted to make with her art. Though she experimented with knitting wool, hand-paining found photographs and other techniques, embroidery emerged as Reicheck’s material of choice. She creates beautiful works on linen using needle and thread.
Though she does quite a bit of her work by hand, Reichek also experiments with computerized sewing. She doesn’t feel this is a shortcut in anyway, as her work is as much about the concept as it is the end result.
There is also an undoubtedly feminist aspect to Reicheck’s work. She attributes it to working with so many male painters during her training. Embroidery, a historically feminine pastime, allows Reichek to explore the same ideas as her male painter counterparts, but, as she says, “if I make them that way, of course their meaning changes, since the meaning of an artwork is always bound with its media and processes and their history.”
Usually selecting a theme to base a series around, Reichek’s latest embroiders consider the myth of Ariadne. Ariadne gave Theseus a ball of thread with which to retrace his steps allowing him to escape the Minotaur’s labyrinth. Reichek created art-historical portraits, many of which contain Araidne’s image, and paired them with quotes from literary sources such as Nietzsche or Catullus.
Yorgo Alexopoulos is a New York-based artist who creatively uses media to construct immense installations and artworks. He combines his paintings, drawings, photographs and films with digital animation and sound to generate works that often comment on transcendental themes. Generally using multiple monitors or projections, Alexopoulos’ installations have a life to them that relies on rhythm, synchronization and movement. For instance, at Norman Foster’s Bow Building in Calgary, Alberta, Alexopulos created a 27 channel video installation that is otherworldly and stunningly beautiful (even just in images).
For his last solo show at Cristin Tierney gallery in New York, Transmigrations, Alexopoulos was inspired by his early paintings. Using the Constructivist movement formed in Russia in the early 20th century as his point of departure, Alexopoulos investigated a narrative based on folklore, magic and spirituality. Alexopoulos incorporated images, videos and paintings to create an animated journey. Part Moholy-Nagy kinetic sculpture, Jennifer Bartlett’s Rhapsody, and early landscape painting, Transmigrations is, as stated in the press release for the exhibition, a “contemplation and reverence of nature and all aspects of our universe that are beyond comprehension.”
Alexopoulos recently completed a permanent video installation for Chicago’s IBM building that is equally engaging and mesmerizing.
Rivane Neuenschwander is a Brazillian artist who works in film, photography, sculpture, collaboration, participatory events and installation. Her work employs beautiful ideas, unpretentious materials and an inspiring vision. For I Wish Your Wish, an installation at the New Museum, Neuenschwander drew from a tradition at the São Salvador church Nosso Senhor do Bonfirm. She invited visitors to take a ribbon from the installation, tie it around their wrist, and leave it until it falls off. Once that happens their wish will come true. Or First Love, a work where a police sketch artist sits with visitors as they describe their “first loves.” The portraits were then hung in the gallery for the exhibition. Rain Rains, is a collection of leaking buckets controlled from flooding by a Sisyphean recirculation tended to by museum staff. One Thousand and One Nights is a collection of galaxy scenes that depict narrative layers of which the viewer becomes a participant. The hole-punched circles along with the frames, articulate the duration of the exhibition in calendar form. A viewer is encouraged to contemplate the idea of one thousand and one nights.
Allowing the participation of visitors, Neuenschwander blurs the boundaries that traditionally stand between artist and viewer. She instigates an idea, permitting it to discriminate via the public. Her work becomes a living, breathing mass collaboration combining nature, language and the ephemeral.