Critics’ Picks

View of “Henry Taylor,” 2011.

View of “Henry Taylor,” 2011.

Los Angeles

Henry Taylor

Blum & Poe | Los Angeles
2727 S. La Cienega Boulevard
March 19–May 7, 2011

While Henry Taylor’s works are packed with references to African-American pop culture, their bric-a-brac aesthetic and homage to the annals of art history conjure a peculiarly ancient feeling. In large part this is due to the so-called “totemic assemblage” that dominates the main gallery, surrounded by nine portrait paintings. This sculptural installation presented in the round, It’s like a Jungle (all works cited, 2011) combines the sacred and profane—through objects connoting urban and rural decay—with ferocious eloquence. Many elements—the Brancusi-like stacked beer box towers painted black or white, the jagged broken bottles, the 99-cent-store findings—evoke back-alley party spots. A fetishization of folk ritual seems to be at work in some other objects, such as broomsticks, broken wooden chair legs transformed into witchy versions of bottle trees used to keep evil spirits away, hand-painted cardboard signs that read CRACK or I KNOW I CAUSED YOU A LOT OF PAIN YESTERDAY, giraffe and horse tchotchkes affixed to pedestals, Clorox bottles painted black, and dog bones wrapped in fishnet stockings. This centerpiece, while wholly original, derives some of its power from its evocation of other artists who charmed found objects, like Joseph Cornell and Robert Rauschenberg, and those who made poetry from pilfered bits of text, like Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Taylor’s heroic paintings depicting African-Americans as athletes in midaction or as detainees mired in correctional facilities engage in a sort of call-and-response dialogue with each other. A Jack Move—Proved It, portraying a baseball player sliding onto a base, is juxtaposed with A 2 life sentence, mine and yours, in which a pimped-out man stands brazenly in front of an LA sheriff’s bus. With an overall palette of grass green, ocher, gray, black, myriad browns, and an occasional white, these portraits are loosely rendered; some of their subjects’ faces are just featureless blank slates. Sharpening this incompletion is the occasional bit of printed matter collaged onto the canvases, recalling aesthetics like Romare Bearden’s. A tiny side room without portraits, sparsely littered with junk sculptures, offers respite from the sociopolitical narrative found in the larger space.