The perfectly unruly art of Jason Rhoades & Llyn Foulkes

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As far as I'm concerned, the late Los Angeles artist Jason Rhoades (1965–2006) is still alive and kicking. At least that was my impression when I attended the opening of the current mega-exhibition of his work at Hauser Wirth & Schimmel. Here's my warning to those of you not familiar with Jason Rhoades's art: prepare to be overwhelmed by the chaotic density of his installations and his shocking use of politically incorrect language.

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Jason Rhoades, "In pursuit of my ermitage…," 2004
Mixed media

In the sprawling installation "My Madinah. In pursuit of my ermitage…" (2004), the artist pays homage to the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia –– the museum envisioned by Catherine the Great as a place for spiritual seclusion. But with his trademark political incorrectness, the artist turns things upside down. With a floor covered in a carpet of towels, his "hermitage" looks part mosque, part temple. Visitors are invited to take off their shoes and walk on the carpet. A cloud of neon signs hangs from the ceiling –– each sign a slang term for female genitalia. According to a gallery statement, "for Rhoades, [the] act of visiting an art museum or gallery [is] like embarking on a religious pilgrimage."

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Jason Rhoades, "Tijuanatanjierchandelier," 2006
Mixed media

In another humongous installation, "Tijuanatanjierchandelier" (2006), made in the last year of the artist's life, hundreds, if not thousands, of objects crowd the floor or hang from the ceiling; cheap imitations of designer handbags; Mexican sombreros; Moroccan hanging lights; and other trinkets of global consumerism. And, once again, nearly 200 neon signs are suspended from the ceiling, each bearing a reference in either Spanish or English to female genitalia.

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Jason Rhoades, "The Creation Myth," 1998
Mixed media

In "The Creation Myth," (1998) Rhoades creates a sculptural installation so busy, so overwhelming that it could be mistaken for the aftermath of an earthquake in a crowded storage unit. Comparing this early work with those made towards the end of his career, one becomes aware of the artist's tendency to better focus and edit himself in his later works.

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If you're up to having another encounter with unsettling art, let's visit the exhibition of Llyn Foulkes (b. 1934) at Sprueth Magers, across from LACMA. Critics often use the word "eccentric" to describe Foulkes' art and his personality. When I look at his maddeningly complex mixed media paintings, I do see them as crazy, obsessive, nostalgic, tragic, and very melancholic.

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Llyn Foulkes, "I Know What You Told Me, Norton, I Still Don't Believe You," 2014-15
Oil paint, bark and found objects on plywood

This exhibition highlights paintings created by the artist since his major retrospective at UCLA's Hammer Museum a couple of years ago. Foulkes not only keeps himself busy producing new paintings and collages, but as far as I know, he continues, at the age of 82, to play an outrageous self-made musical contraption –– a sort of church organ made out of a xylophone, car horns, organ pipes, and cowbells. He calls it The Machine.

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Llyn Foulkes performing on "The Machine"
at The Church of Art, 2008
Courtesy of the Hammer Museum
Photo by Iva Hladis

Looking at his assemblage comprised of a found, rusty car door pierced with dozens of bullet holes, one is understandably shocked by the violence and tragedy it implies. But the way Llyn Foulkes presents it –– it's pure poetry.

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Llyn Foulkes, Installation view of "Old Man Blues"
at Sprüth Magers Los Angeles

All photos by Edward Goldman unless otherwise indicated.



Benjamin Gottlieb