Critics’ Picks

View of “Melamine Everything.” From left: Vanity Fair, September 2007, 2008; The Master Bathroom at 23 Beekman Place from Below, Part II, 2008; POM 5: Villarceau, 2008.

View of “Melamine Everything.” From left: Vanity Fair, September 2007, 2008; The Master Bathroom at 23 Beekman Place from Below, Part II, 2008; POM 5: Villarceau, 2008.

Los Angeles

Justin Beal

ACME.
2939 Denby Ave
March 22–April 19, 2008

In his first solo exhibition, Justin Beal sets up risks, then overcomes them. He risks an excess of elegant, design-inflected formalism, since many of his works are made of steel and thick plate glass assembled into pared-down compositions. Wall-mounted pieces consist of glass planks resting on welded-steel supports, like shelving units in a high-end store display; floor-standing zigzags made of hinged plate glass evoke Bauhaus folding screens. Yet Beal always breaks his artworks’ formal poise by putting them in tension with more demotic objects: His “shelves” hold blood-clot-red bottles of POM fruit juice; one of his “screens” carries a framed copy of a famous Louis Vuitton ad starring Mikhail Gorbachev; wall-hung mirrors are mostly obscured by pale pink or green stretch wrap, normally used to package pallets full of consumer goods.

Even then, Beal’s work risks the noncommittal, formalist buzz of ready-made Minimalism—a hint of what-you-see-is-what-you-see neutrality that might be read as a rejection of social and narrative complexity. That risk, too, is handily overcome, by means of an esoteric backstory that Beal has let his dealers circulate about the show. It was inspired, apparently, by research into Paul Rudolph’s decadent modern glass-and-chrome domestic interiors, like the one the architect designed for Halston’s famous party pad in gay 1970s New York. The creation narrative behind Beal’s art functions less as a reliable guide to its content than as a kind of perverse conceit, à la Rodney Graham. It throws a spanner into any simple reading of the artist’s simple-looking pieces. Beal’s POM containers, with their trademark bulges, become exotic sex toys—or transfusion bottles. The stretch-wrapped mirrors are both party-fabulous and mournful, as though draped for Halston’s wake.