Critics’ Picks

Pearl Hsiung, Volcanic Ash, 2010, still from a color video, 6 minutes.

Pearl Hsiung, Volcanic Ash, 2010, still from a color video, 6 minutes.

Los Angeles

Pearl Hsiung

Vincent Price Art Museum
1301 Avenida Cesar Chavez
September 16–December 16, 2011

This exhibition showcases the metaphoric breadth Pearl Hsiung achieves through a spectacularly narrow visual vocabulary that is biomorphic, geological, and deliciously raunchy. Hsiung’s explosive lexicon in these roughly thirty-five paintings, videos, and sculptures—featuring caves, geodes, volcanic calderas, barrel cacti, eggs, holes, and eyes— continuously roils, like molten lava, into new motifs that riff on in-and-out movement connoting not only natural cycles of destruction and rebirth, but also sexual role reversals and subversions. Clues that Hsiung’s oeuvre is about more than sci-fi and psychedelic fantasy abound most evidently in videos like the glam Volcanic Ash, 2010, in which the artist blackens her teeth with Oreos for close-up mouth shots while she sings. At one point, an image of her crotch, cropped and upside down in jeans, visually references the iconic cover of the Rolling Stones album Exile on Main Street. See also Heave Ho, 2006, a plastic floor sculpture shaped like a large geode adorned with a trashy gold bow and extruding a lazy, smooth, pink tongue from its jagged, crystalline rainbow center, like a vagina dentata response to that rock band’s famous logo. That said, Hsiung’s paintings are the highlight of this miniretrospective.

While her paintings are impressive for their technical feats alone (typically spray paint–stenciled landscapes adorned with high-gloss oil-based enamel patterning, color blasts, or decorative flourishes à la Lari Pittman), on a more conceptual level the works shown here provide a welcome assessment of Hsiung’s dirty glamour. The painting one encounters on entering, High Piqued, 2010, sets an ejaculatory tone with a depiction of a turquoise volcano set against a purple-red striated sky and spurting ecstatically above a sandbar that wears a ruby ring. Galaxies and rainbows appear in costume as well: Eye of the Beholder, 2004, for example, depicts a yellow-green rainbow wearing fishnets. In Shecretes, 2008, and Zealophiliac, 2007, cascading waterfalls terminate in ladylike fingers bejeweled with painted acrylic nails while areas of geothermal fissure offer bursts of orgasmic color. The exhibition playfully places pleasure at the forefront, and pleasure is derived from viewing these wholly satisfying images.