Critics’ Picks

Kenneth Tam, Champagne 1, 2016, ink-jet print, 23 1/2 x 15 1/2".

Kenneth Tam, Champagne 1, 2016, ink-jet print, 23 1/2 x 15 1/2".

Los Angeles

Kenneth Tam

Commonwealth and Council
3006 West 7th Street, Suite 220
July 30–September 10, 2016

Three large flat-screen televisions are placed diagonally across the wooden floors, imitating the playful actions one encounters in Kenneth Tam’s three-part single-channel video installation The Loving Cup, 2016. The cup runneth over, as visitors encounter a generous and inviting social dynamic with a group of ethnically diverse men––strangers—who must physically and psychologically engage with each other through a series of activities across all three videos. Tam questions the normative scripts of interaction between men by asking them to slow dance, poke, and tickle one another or to make noises and ride each other like ponies. They frolic with balloons, which are also used as makeshift body gear for sumo wrestling, and even perform an improvised dance routine. Much of their behavior resembles that of boys playing childish games at a birthday party. Indeed, the props given to them by the artist evoke this nostalgic environment, with “Happy Birthday” balloons and gift-wrapped presents, mostly set up within domestic interiors.

Lining the otherwise bare walls is a series of four small ink-jet prints, titled “Champagne 1–4,” 2016, where two gentlemen embrace underneath a frozen waterfall of champagne, suggestive of a decontextualized sporting victory. While Tam offers scenes that confuse masculinity, femininity, and boyhood to explore vulnerability and athleticism through discomfort, his subjects are also noticeably having a good deal of fun. As if performing the theories of Judith Butler, these men explore the discursive limits of sex within a framework reminiscent of Augusto Boal’s theater of the oppressed: On their own stage, they have the ability to observe and free themselves, and also the world around them.