I don’t remember where I first ran across Phyllis Green’s artwork in Los Angeles -- but I remember the first time I included it in a show I was curating. It was at Chinatown’s INMO Gallery in 2001, and the show had the punning title Between Representation -- the main point being the fact that none of the artists, for various reasons, were currently part of a commercial gallery stable. Galleries come and go, and Phyllis was one of several firmly established art world figures I was able to include.
I was familiar with some of her then-recent work like the Turkish Bath series (1993 - 1996), which flirted shamelessly with ostentatious decoration and a hybridized sculptural materialism that introduced hi-tech polymers and flocking into a vocabulary ostensibly rooted in clay vessels.
I wasn’t quite prepared for the remarkable, ambitious piece that she installed -- a multi-component sculpture that conflated retail display and tonsorial vernacular in a seamless mashup interweaving art historical interrogation (Duchamp studies in particular), feminism, and her own sumptuous Postmodern formalism.
L12 (Duchamp Party)
(2001) was basically a scaled-up steel replica of Duchamp’s 1914 Bottle Rack readymade -- the first true, unmodified readymade, consisting of a store-bought skeletal cast iron structure designed for drying recycled wine bottles after washing -- with flat clear acrylic discs mounted as platforms on the upright spokes of the drier.
On each of these was set one of Green’s then-current Spinning Head 360-degree hairdo sculptures -- featureless, inversely panoramic coiffures sometimes based on notable tonsorial models like aviatrix Amelia Earhart or the cartoon character Little Lulu, but in this case a “generic mid-length ‘do” cast in clay with graphically abstracted brown and black glazes (mimicking the colors and faux-wood assemblage of Duchamp’s 1912 painting Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 and related works) in an edition of 12.
The default interpretation of Duchamp’s Bottle Rack -- in light of the complex mechanically thwarted eroticism of his subsequent major works -- has been to see it as a sort of phallus tree, perpetually awaiting the arrival of its moist vaginal wine-bottle counterparts (I am not making this up!).
Though it didn’t occur to me at the time, I realized that Green’s configuration -- with the plastic discs forming a barrier between the rack prongs and the inverted wig vessels -- clearly echoes the prophylactic narrative of Duchamp’s masterpiece The Large Glass
(1923) with its bride and bachelors locked in a perpetually frustrated choreography of amorous pursuit and ill communication...