New York

Jim Isermann

Josh Baer Gallery

Los Angeles–based artist Jim Isermann works according to the dictates of his own taste. Neither issue nor idea-oriented, he comes close to being an artist of pure sensibility. His objets d’art and furniture have a look informed by the biomorphic abstraction of the ’50s and the Op art of the ’60s, and by those movements’ ability to inject futuristic optimism into the American home. Isermann’s installations are not self-conscious exercises in recontextualization (design carrying the ideological baggage of art), but efforts toward remembrance and preservation. Isermann is a nostalgic Candide, rescuing an earlier design vision from the tides of fashion, not only because he finds it beautiful, but also because it is, for him, a blueprint for the best of all possible worlds.

The original models of Isermann’s remade period pieces can be found in thrift stores. Discolored and damaged survivors of decades past, their original congenial brightness has been tainted by time. Isermann’s objects are, on the other hand, newly born anachronisms; they are as fresh as they are outdated. The timeline of taste along which one style replaces another and makes its predecessor appear ancient is momentarily disrupted, not by revivalism but by the artist’s refusal to acknowledge the evolution of design.

The environments that Isermann creates are ruled by complete visual homogeneity, like those created for the futuristic visions of Star Trek and 2001. In these environments one could (if permitted) sit in a chair that matches the painting or sculpture on view. From this vantage point, the near past’s utopianism may be either momentarily relived or disbelieved. If our sensibilities or tastes conform to Isermann’s, the work clicks; if they don’t, the work is received as yet another exercise in nostalgia via the resurrection of ersatz culture.

Here Isermann displayed coordinating paintings, bean-bag chairs, and mobiles. The paintings are bright and sunny: painted with enamel on wood, they usually feature a cutout circle, diamond, or square in the center, surrounded by a geometric pattern painted in bright, saturated colors. Isermann isolates, rather showcases, these isolated units. But his reluctance to create or solve formal problems within the individual paintings, or the sequence as a whole, produces an overall visual dullness. The mobiles are also composed of squares, diamonds, and circles, and the bean-bag chairs are made of stripes of vinyl——the melted sublime.

This show is not one of Isermann’s most thorough or diverting. The artist’s best work can be seen in the TV lounges he designed as permanent installations for the American Museum of the Moving Image, in New York, and for LACE (Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions). In these projects, his output is not only functional, it is pervasive. In traditional exhibition format, his work is too passive. Isermann fails to foist his appropriated styles onto the viewer as enthusiastically as the original practitioners of these styles did when they were churning out this work in its heyday.

Matthew A. Weinstein