Thursday, May 6, 2010

Visual Arts Reviews

With Pump Pee Doo, artist Richard Jackson sends up everything from Paris’s Pompidou art centre to Marcel Duchamp.

Playful painting machines meet peeing bears in Richard Jackson's Collected Works

In the early years of his career, Richard Jackson invented ways of painting that went largely unnoticed by the cognoscenti. While guiding the Straight through an exhibition of his works spanning the last four decades, the Los Angeles artist says that, during the 1970s, “Nobody ever wanted these things—literally nobody.” It has taken the interest of Vancouver-based collector Bob Rennie, he says, to not only acquire his concept-driven art but also support its production and exhibition. “Bob really understands my work,” Jackson enthuses.
Rennie’s understanding has allowed Jackson to realize, in material form, a number of ambitious installations that previously existed only as drawings. The first Canadian exhibition of his art and also his first major solo show in North America since 1988, Richard Jackson: Collected Works spans four decades and includes paintings, sculpture, neon, and drawings. (The Rennie Collection at Wing Sang is private; interested viewers may apply for admission to guided tours at
Jackson has been described as a neo-Dadaist, probably because of the bourgeoisie-baiting irreverence he brings to his projects. He’s also seen as someone who deconstructs painting, although he says he’s more interested in expanding its possibilities than in taking it apart. Still, he long ago assumed conceptualism’s stand against market-driven and craft-based approaches to the medium: he critiques the painting as a fetishized object while embracing the process of reinventing it. “I don’t like art,” he says, “I like the activity.”
Nonetheless, there is a lot of art on view, some of it temporary and all of it (as is true of every show produced in this venue) drawn from Rennie’s personal collection. Installed on the main floor is Rennie 101, a big wall work composed of semicircles of thick, vivid paint and stretched canvases. In executing this idea, Jackson loaded 20 small canvases with paint, then placed them face to the wall and rotated them, creating a series of concentric loops of colour. The canvases were then mounted, again face to the wall, in a corresponding grid formation. The entirety is a wonderful contradiction: geometric and organic, restrained and spectacular, it reflects not only the artist’s early studies in engineering but also his desire to invert and unsettle traditional forms and practices.
In other venues, Jackson has created painting machines out of appliances as various as clothes washers, lawn mowers, and motorcycles. On view here are a photograph and videotape documenting a recent project in which the artist crashed a large model plane, filled with bulbs of paint, into a white wall. The resulting splatter of red, blue, yellow, and orange is pretty nifty, but again it’s the process—the model plane noisily cruising, lifting off, and crashing—that is so compelling. Equally absorbing is La Grande Jatte (after Georges Seurat), a work in progress that consists of an outline in graphite of Seurat’s famous pointillist painting, partially filled in with dots of colour shot from guns loaded with paint-dipped pellets. It’s an undertaking that cleverly challenges the art-historical canon while bumping it up against American gun culture and Jackson’s interest in hunting. Both works manage to be char-ming while confronting us with elements of contemporary violence.
An enormous schism exists between Jackson’s early wall paintings and the figurative sculptures he has produced in recent years. These sculptures can be seen as elaborate painting machines, yes, but the mood has shifted from good-humoured disruptions of tradition to something darker, cruder, and more disturbing. Many of the 3-D works are sexual or scatological in content and pop-culture-slick in form, suggesting a marriage of sensibilities somewhere between Paul McCarthy and Jeff Koons.
An example is Pump Pee Doo, a large installation whose title plays on the Pompidou art centre in Paris, where it was first installed, and whose principal motif alludes to Marcel Duchamp’s famous urinal, Fountain. The work stages vice-versa variations on bears with urinal heads and urinals with bear heads, the creatures hooked up to hoses, compressors, and buckets that seem to pump paint into their assholes and out their dicks. Complicated as it is technically and visually, Pump Pee Doo is a bit of a one-liner—a labour-intensive, art-world-mocking dirty joke, with a little colour theory thrown in.
Apparently related is an inverted, spread-eagled, chalky pink human figure, Upside Down Woman. A paint-stained funnel is stuck in her anus and more Day-Glo pink paint has dribbled out of her urethra, down her body, over her blank face, and into her empty eyes. It’s part of a series that also includes upside-down, paint-pissing men, bears, and babies. Perhaps the Rennie Collection work would be less troubling if these counterparts were on display here too. Isolated as this sculpture is in the exhibition, however, it’s very difficult to read in ways that aren’t as demeaning to women as they are to the long and conflicted tradition of painting.

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