Writing about Jason Meadows’s sculpture in 1998, Dennis Cooper concluded that “there’s something about Meadows’s low-key yet forward-thinking sculptures that toys innocently with your mind while, at the same time, making you think unusually hard and well about the great unknown’s possible discrepancies.” Meadows achieves this mental mobility by way of a thorough assimilation of the seemingly contradictory syntaxes and grammars of, among others, Anthony Caro and H. C. Westermann. Even more than he’s been testing the borderlines between abstraction and figuration, in his last few shows, especially his brilliant “The Thought That Counts” at Sister in Los Angeles in 2004—for which he collaborated with seven sculptors by providing “pedestals” for their work—he’s been questioning what supports structure or what structures support in a moment when too much sculpture seems content to be nothing more than a prop.
The “prop” problem may explain the appearance of the ne plus ultra of contemporary props, Paris Hilton, in two of the collages and one of the wall works that surrounded the five sculptures in Meadows’s recent show at Marc Foxx, “Life on Mars.” The title might be taken as a cue to begin exploring (sculptural, conceptual) space: How is it territorialized differently now, and how can a sculpture acknowledge the effect of the cybernetic without denying its own history? How might sculpture materialize its and our futurity? While the appearance of Paris in any context instant-messages and product-places the idea of celebrity, media event, and alienated superwealth, her utter plasticity makes her a hyperbolic fetish for sculptural possibility. In Paris Scorpion, 2005, a cut-apart picture of the heiress idling atop a grand piano in a silky red dress, vamping a stenciled scorpion tail, in white spray paint, floats on vivid blue paper.
Familiar and yet bracingly abstract, Stripped Opportunity, 2006, a Mars Rover–like contraption, is grounded on red Westermannish axles linked by a wooden street marker and propped up on cinder blocks. Tailing off into a blue-broom “tail fin,” extending upward into periscopic tin-can “oculars,” and opening out into a wing of honeycombed steel, its metallic chassis seems to be a transformed workbench centered by two disks or “gears,” one of blue Plexiglas, another of mosaicked mirror, the whole seeming to refer to the studio in which it was made. Never frustrating the overall coherence of the assembly, the appearance of jerry-rigging—wires attaching metal brackets to wooden dowels; a small vise clamping a bit of plastic to the machine—paradoxically points out how deliberate Meadows has become in his use of the tacky, the DIY, and the geometrical for unerring effects made to look casual. In sync with both Joss Whedon’s Serenity (2005) and HBO’s Deadwood, Meadows images and discombobulates contemporaneity as a Wild West making do with what’s at hand.
In Prospector, 2006, an elongated steel shovel intersects a Z made of wood and MDF, the shovel’s handle attached to the sides of the Z’s upper horizontal. With a nod to Jonathan Borofsky’s chattering men, fastened atop the Z are dual silhouettes of a human head, its two parts bolted together at the eye; resting on the Z’s shortened base board is a metal basket filled with gravel and marbles. Syncopating, almost musically, the notion of prop and support, two brick-colored cement wedges hold up the entire affair, while, glancing off the floor, the shovel’s scoop extends beyond it, a third brick wedge, inverted, just out of reach. To ignore the daring formalization occurring in Meadows’s most recent work, which breaks apart—harlequinizes—the layered (temporal, dimensional, personal) planarities of seeing into constitutive and discrepant material parts, would be to miss how he’s constructing meanings; but to see only formal issues would be to fail to ask how, why, and at what cost the West was won.