Los Angeles

Jim Isermann

Riko Mizuno Gallery

To create a firm contrast between the nostalgic and the merely passé, as any dedicated thrift shop scanner knows, style requires a decent interval of indifference to pass. During the past five years the ’50s have become the new frontier, embraced by punk stylists and the collectibles industry alike. Confronting the ’50s in furniture and decor we find ourselves face-to-face with the sometimes dimwitted marketing of the moderne. During that decade “progressive design” found a mass audience which seems, in retrospect, to have closed its eyes to the nightmarish colors and improbable forms repeated ad nauseum across the kitchens and basement rumpus rooms of America. Sharp angles, queer-colored kidney shapes, and boomerang arcs in fuzzy textures and nouveau plastic abounded, all barely supported by thin legs of bent black-lacquered metal. This, of course, was the perfect accompaniment to shark-finned automobiles, flattop haircuts, and other unlovely but fascinating products of the time.

Jim Isermann’s environment, “Modern Tempo,” is a parody and celebration of ’50s moderne. With a deft hand he has isolated some of the most typical and striking of these forms in order to create his own new-made environment. It is exact in detail but overwhelming in its totality, clearly a playful fiction. A webbed chair with a steeply angled profile, in lime green and bittersweet orange, evokes the period but also comments upon the oddities of ’50s design. This and other items in the show give one a queasy feeling of familiarity, combined with a newly awakened consciousness of the decade’s awkward, overdesigned realities. Isermann’s “Modern Tempo” is, in part, a humorous tract on the subject of the uncultivated consumerism which can adapt itself to the ludicrous out of sheer insensitivity to the shapes and textures of advertised and desired goods.

Concocting his interior decor with the fondness and irony of a left-handed compliment, Isermann embraces the gaucherie, unself-conscious excess, and sheer material inventiveness of mid-American moderne. It is the style many of us grew up with, the deeply imprinted colors and forms of our earliest memories. Isermann, at 26, is too young to have much in the way of recollection of the ’50s; perhaps that is why he sees them with such a cool, fresh eye, finding them not in the least embarrassing.

However, the borderline between invention and parody gets fuzzy at times. For example, Isermann has built some terrific zany frames out of wood and pegboard but balks at filling them with anything of substance, even within the prevailing genre. His small floral doodles are just so much wallpaper design adapted from the most commonplace forms of the time. An avid collector of the best and worst of the period, Isermann has rendered its vocabulary with humor and exactitude. Some of his creations come out of his own living room, where they co-exist with real items of ’50s decor. In that context their wit and energy might come across with even more force.

Susan C. Larsen