New York

Ronald Gault Jirado

Annina Nosei

Toss a Burger King wrapper in front of an artwork and see how the work holds up. If it doesn’t lose its cool, it’s safe to say that it has something to do with life as it’s lived in this half of the 20th-century. If it suffers much in comparison, odds are that it’s quagmired in some retrograde idea of beauty. Ronald Gault Jirado’s installation—which offered, in the artist’s own words, "a reconstructing of Eastern/Western customs and ceremonies of philosophical and religious idealogies [sic]”—flunks the Burger King test. It looks alright at first, but it’s pretentious.

Like so many other artists lately, Jirado seeks immanent meaning in elemental materials. This meaning seems intended to be both literal and transcendental and, therefore, capable of cutting through the bothersome complexities of everyday life. But whether or not this artist or any other can really rise above the contingencies of day-to-day existence remains open to question. Dominion, 1989, features a number of pinecones mounted on a backboard made from used wainscotting. Draped over some of the bottom pinecones is a length of sheer black fabric. Suggesting that this gesture is somehow irreducible amounts to an appeal from the artist to the viewer to hold back whatever questions one might ordinarily ask of an artwork, be they historical, sociological, or even plain commonsensical. Caldron of Dionysus, 1988–89, consists of a circular concrete basin that holds rocks, water, and feathers which float on the water’s surface. Jirado calls it a “baptism bowl for entrance into life and transcendence.” Here, again, his claims must be taken on faith.

More intriguing is Apparition of a Transcendentalist, 1989, because it takes some degree of artifice into account. This piece is constructed from two lengths of baseboard mounted end-to-end on the wall. Hanging from them are seven deceptively naturalistic sprigs of ivy. Like Mexican retablo work, the sprigs are constructed from tin. As opposed to the nominal “authenticity” of the elemental materials, these begin to suggest a dialectic between humanity and nature that Jirado sees in terms of Hinduism: he declares, “Nature is an illusionistic world of veils which unfolds and opens up the psyche.”

Unfortunately, Jirado’s one insight into nature is an all-too-brief respite from what is otherwise a monolith of unreflected literalism. Accordingly, the artist sometimes falls into silly reveries on his material, as when he describes cement as “a strong, dense material that only gets stronger with age and water.” Anyone who’s ever had to repair concrete knows that water, over a period, will leach the lime from it and cause it to rot. This statement, though not exactly a part of Jirado’s works, nonetheless captures the artist’s desire to prematurely eternalize the materials of his art. The effort constitutes not only an overt mystification, but also a cheap appeal to posterity.

John Miller