Los Angeles

Jim Isermann

Richard Kuhlenschmidt Gallery

As in Jim Isermann’s previous exhibitions of wall panels, lamps, clocks, and freestanding furniture, the domestic-minded sculpture here is a homage to industrial folk objects of the ’50s and ’60s. Isermann allies himself most closely with the vernacular offshoots of high Modernist design—work more eccentrically colored, more wildly curvilinear than that of Marcel Breuer, Eero Saarinen, Charles and Ray Eames, and others, upon which it performs variations. Isermann assumes this posture not to mimic vernacular craftsmen but to use their transformations of earlier designs as a stimulus for a fresh alignment of “high” and “low” art. In his 1982 solo show, “Motel Modern,” Isermann succeeded in this aim, lifting the biomorphic elements of Modernist painting out of the canvas, as it were, and incorporating them in ridged and pegboard furniture for the motel suite. The site was the Inn of Tomorrow, an aging hotel with a view of Disneyland’s Matterhorn. Wall panels for hourglass lamps evoked works by Joan Miró; a television cabinet with one pointed leg, those of Alexander Calder.

The pieces in the new show, “Suburban,” look slightly more advanced in time, since their art-historical sources include hard-edge painting and Minimal sculpture as well as biomorphic contours. A sofa with a long, rectangular seat and back is inlaid with a similarly shaped padding, while a chair balances an upholstered sphere on the back of its pristinely geometric frame. Yet even when shapes are austere, Isermann’s work retains its zaniness, because his materials and colors remain rooted in vernacular precedents. Vinyl against wood looks appropriately “cheap,” as does the fake fur that covers two stools and their matching spherical wall ornaments; and the dominant hues—aqua, hot pink, lime green, and garish red—derive from the palette of bygone kitsch.

As one might expect, even when Isermann is working in a gallery space rather than a motel suite his installations simulate domestic environments. In the largest room here, for example, a coffee table with a two-tone elliptical top stood in front of the sofa; overhead, a multicone lamp fixture provided light; and on the wall, pegboard panels, painted with a form resembling something between a paisley pattern and an amoeba, covered the windows. Other elements of the show reminded viewers that Isermann’s suburbia is that of an earlier America enthralled with the space race. The spokes that extend outward from a clock make it resemble a primitive satellite, while a wall decoration with five diagonally aligned metallic circles alludes to a space station. These ’50s-ish emblems recall the optimism of some of that period’s ideas of America.

Robert L. Pincus