Critics’ Picks

Jonathan Lasker, To Caress the Naked Eye, 1987, oil on canvas, 62 1/4 x 76".

Los Angeles

“Bad Influence”

Michael Thibault
8361 Beverly Blvd.
July 11–August 30, 2014

By the mid-1980s Jean Baudrillard’s “simulacral” buzz was peaking, and the artists featured in Andrew J. Greene–curated “Bad Influence” responded to the dislodgment of exchange value (from commodity object to brand logo) with a mix of cultural and technological anachronisms. Produced between 1985 and ’92, works by Gretchen Bender, Ashley Bickerton, Wim Delvoye, and Jonathan Lasker offer a compelling account of a decade, but the show’s main provocation points to an anxiety of influence. See Bickerton’s sculpture Seascape: Floating Costume to Drift for Eternity III (Elvis Suit), 1992: Surrounded by four bright-yellow pontoons emblazoned with the word SUSIE—the artist’s self-conceived brand logo—the main body encapsulates a rhinestone-encrusted Elvis suit behind a panel of glass that recalls both television screen and display vitrine. If Bickerton’s pop-cultural time capsule offers a playful riposte to the more serious museological display strategies fashionable at the time, the work’s unsightly details—frayed gaffer tape and a disordered skein of black rope—subtly deflect kitsch commodity seduction by way of material fatigue. Similar material and cultural collisions persist in the work of younger artists, but differentiating aesthetic complacence from capitalist critique now seems futile or beside the point—bad influence indeed.

Across the way, Lasker’s To Caress the Naked Eye, 1987, is a premonitory example of how digital technologies currently infiltrate the space of painting. Layered planes of wavy figures and bold, off-kilter grids challenge the status of foreground and background (pre-Photoshop), and screen-friendly chartreuse hues almost predict the digital mediation of today’s LED transmissions. Yet, there are hints of Klee in Lasker’s imagery, and these historical references to primitivism—a regressive modernist response to the technological innovations of the previous century—remind us that the media-obsessed conditions of late capitalism might still be met with thoughtful resistance. Whether today’s artists can or care to defy the commercial efficiency of an endless stream of backlit appearances and the dizzying excess of speculative economies still remains an open question.