Thursday, March 19, 2015

Michael Parker's JUICEWORK at Human Resources

I haven't been doing much art reviewing lately, but here's an excerpt from "Michael Parker 101," which will be included in the catalog for R.S.V.P. Los Angeles at Pomona College Museum of Art, Fall 2015 (ed. Rebecca McGrew and Terri Geis).

"The history of Modern art could be mined for precursors to relational aesthetics at least as far back as the Dada antics at the Cabaret Voltaire. But most of the current practitioners of this newest of New Genres distinguish themselves by subscribing to a conceptualist austerity of means—favoring deadpan structural and procedural documentation; emphasizing, often exclusively, the social interactions produced by their artworks; and eschewing formalist content, such as the tactile, sensual, and perceptual elements of art and the visual language they comprise.

While the relational artists’ puritanism can be helpful in focusing and clarifying their intentions (plus having the bonus effect of destabilizing their claim to creative authority), it also abdicates subjectivity, idiosyncrasy, most of the non-narrative non-verbal information (which provides a much different kind of ambiguity than crowd-sourced content), and the majority of the sensory rewards that many still consider integral to art. It is a dry medium, lacking juice. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

In his most recent solo exhibition, Michael Parker brought the juice with a vengeance. For Juicework, held at Human Resources in Los Angeles’ Chinatown district over four days in February 2015, the artist filled the cavernous white cube of the gallery—a former neighborhood movie house—with an array of interactive components that took sensual engagement to an absurd but exquisite extreme. Consisting of a dozen or so stations where visitors could produce and consume juice from the abundant supply of citrus fruits (plus a dishwashing area), the installation functioned perfectly as a locus of conviviality, with perhaps a spritz of social commentary (juice boutiques being currently synonymous with the sustainable gentry).

What made Juicework remarkable was its extravagant sensuality and homespun eccentricity. Each of the juicing stations consisted of a table fashioned from an irregular tree slab raised about 10 inches off the floor and lit by hanging porcelain pendant lamps molded from what the artist called “the ugliest watermelon of the summer.” Various sizes of coiled fabric cushions sealed in clear vinyl and an array of ersatz African stools provided seating.

But the pith of the display consisted of over 1000 handmade ceramic artifacts—mostly freeform juice reamers of various sizes, but also sufficient quantities of cups, funnels, trays, and larger vessels to hold the mounds of yellow, orange, and green fruit. The ceramic tools were mutantly variegated in shape, scale, and finish—with organic forms recalling sea anemones and sumptuous mottled glazes in the blue-violet-red end of the spectrum.

Visually, the installation was like nothing so much as an immersive stained glass Art Nouveau theme park, like walking through Antoni Gaudi’s studio during a minor earthquake. And an aromatherapy session. And experimental choreography workshop. And yes, the social aspect was delightful. But it might not have been so, without the opium-den intimacy and Haight-Ashbury facture to knock the public’s discursive minds off their “I-am-participating-in-a-social-artwork” pedestals..."

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