Los Angeles

Michael McMillen

Welding together heightened feeling and imaginative mechanics, “Engine of Mercy” was an apt title for Michael McMillen’s double show at both L.A. Louver locations. Populated by rickety junkyard angels with gnashing gear teeth and animated miniature building facades that grimace out at the viewer, McMillenland is an environment,by turns wacky and brooding, in which junk assembles itself into patined, dreamlike icons.

Viewers entered The Pavilion of Rain, 1987, an impressive installation in the larger of the two galleries, through a creaky beat-up screen door, and passed through an entryway walled with rusty corrugated tin. In a dim room a dilapidated houseboat listed in a ten-inch deep pool of water that nearly covered the floor.Viewers walked around the piece on a fairly dry path of rubber matting that skirted its perimeter, while the sound and smell of water drizzling from ceiling sprinklers throughout most of the space created a soothing, moody atmosphere. The boat was festooned with a terrific conglomeration of trash and gadgets in various stages of decrepitude: old toasters, chicken wire , watering cans, electric fans, tires, ladders, surfboards, bird cages, flattened trash barrels, saw blades, etc. A smaller vessel dangled from the ceiling at one end of the room casting an elongated shadow onto one wall. One could enter the large boat through ragged lace curtains at its back. As a whole, the work evoked elation and awe, for it was as though one had stumbled upon a ghost ship. The Pavilion of Rain seemed to achieve an ephemeral fusion of haunted ruin, living image, and sensory environment.

McMillen’s smaller pieces often resemble the besmirched brainchildren of some youthful inventor. Mysterious and amusing, these weathered gizmos make one feel as though one had stumbled upon a museum of decaying toys that could clang and clunk into operation if the right encrusted key were turned. Ouija, 1990, a relieflike wall piece, exemplifies McMillen’s fondness for primary colors and household objects. Half yellow and half blue, with two red-rimmed, eyelike portholes and a screened-in, mouthlike door, the piece looks like a fragment of some ancient model building, or the set for a horror film starring a cast of Lilliputians. Ouija is crowned with a lightning-rod-like fork, prongs poking skyward. Spike Head, 1988, is an oxidized, greenish cast-bronze monster head with goggling eyes, displayed in a glass cabinet. Nails stick out of the head in all directions, and it drips with the smaller version of the kind of metal flotsam and jetsam McMillen favors: keys, nozzles, and locks. In Popular Mechanics, 1988, McMillen has constructed three very homemade-looking guns, using wood, batteries, and kitchen knives. At first glance these objects look a little silly, probably harmless. The longer one stares, however, the more sinister the crude weapons appear. Combining the grotesque with the delicate, McMillen’s constructions provide wordless flashes of shadowy delight.

Amy Gerstler