Los Angeles

Rita McBride

Margo Leavin Gallery

For her recent exhibition of rattan sculptures, Rita McBride turned to the sweatshops of the Philippines and had the boys there custom make her a 1990 Toyota Celica GT to scale from this unlikely material. These reeds might smell nice at first, but McBride’s endeavor becomes suspicious upon closer inspection. The artist makes the dubious claim that the workers, who also produced two eight-foot-high nuclear silos for her, were“challenged” by her project. And, even though McBride’s work does venture the point that the seductive appeal of silos as architecture conflicts with a potentially destructive function, these chic pieces of nonfurniture, looming like bloated laundry hampers, reveal a smug sort of ignorance. The insidious subtext reads: “I’ll pay you to make replicas of what my country protects you with and threatens others with.” The fact that the silos and car are made out of rattan with all its associations is never adequately thought through, and the implications of this work are ultimately nauseating. McBride isn’t really examining questions of status, transportation, car design, or the overdetermined signs of our times. Something about consumption and capitalism is evoked, but more by accident than intention; ultimately this practice amounts to a callous display of colonialism. McBride stated that she “had some moral problems” with this project, but that didn’t seem to stop her from exploiting cheap labor to fabricate artwork and bringing the work back to the U.S. to sell for a high price. The obvious ethical problem of having artwork fabricated by third world laborers is never acknowledged. McBride’s approach involves an element of self-conscious complicity, and the pieces function solely as lame attempts to enter a conversation on consumer culture in which one would think Jeff Koons had had the last word.

Double Helix Spiral Staircase (all works 1990) consists of a brass fire pole that extends 20 feet from the gallery floor to the ceiling with dozens of rattan steps positioned like rungs on a ladder, and the title’s double-helix reference to DNA’s spiral configuration is loosely reflected in the configuration of the work. Poetic, perhaps, but only in its awkwardness—its strained desire to be poetic—Double Helix is an empty bastardization of the beauty of DNA.

Also included in the show is a point of an enlarged FAX sent to the gallery from the Philippines by the artist showing the progress of the wholly “original” rattan Toyota.This must be intended to show just how contemporary her endeavor is (FAX as fine art, is the world ready?), but it accounts for little more than a trendy joke.

Even if originality remains a quaint conceit, the search for novel materials seems ceaseless. The art world has seen every conceivable animal, plant, and mineral applied to a surface or floating in space. McBride isn’t interested in rattan any more than she is in cars and silos; what fuels her work is a vacuous game of one-upmanship with her competitors.

Benjamin Weissman