Los Angeles

Michael Joaquín Grey

Stuart Regen Gallery

In Michael Joaquín Grey’s show the trouble begins with the first seductive photograph. After its abstract first impression fades away, a tiny, cryptically muted image is detectable—an upside-down rubber replica of the Tin Man’s helmet. One thinks of The Wizard of Oz—rusty, cheerful, and void of a heart. But no; perhaps the photograph is to serve as a metaphoric “funnel”—a starter button to a body of work that wishes to address seemingly everything: animation, logic, genetics, electricity, human development, animals, play, sexuality, evolution, erosion, and ecology. With the aid of the funnel in tinman, 1991, one is to envision drops of water cast into the two hydrocal bricks that comprise the sculpture drips [captured earth], 1988–92. On the ground next to the bricks is a third work, bovines, 1991, consisting of a pewter bull and a cow made of orange Silly Putty. The models look respectively elegant and juvenile—pewter versus Silly Putty, what a scrumptious high and low duel (not). This piece could mean almost anything. The gallery assistant chimes in, “Yes, cows are the most genetically altered species in the world, over 32,000 breeds.” Well, that’s a relief. Guess how many bristles are in the average toothbrush? What do a photograph of a helmet/funnel, white bricks, and toy cows have to do with each other? It’s a surrealistic free-for-all, a semantic obstacle course, and the available clues are few and confusing.

Three works claim to have something to do with child development. Scleral Record (bilateral), 1991, consists of steel monkey bars, wrapped in pewter foil (pewter for its capacity to conduct electrical current). On top of the monkey bars, sheets of blue Plexiglas display a selection of simulated eyes (shark, human, telescope) made from polyvinyl chloride and red yarn to give them an evil, veiny look. The eyes peer omnisciently down at the viewer, the hypothetical child. Longstem Rum Bud (counterclockwise), 1991, which consists of a tricycle dipped in powder-blue silicone, also makes reference to childhood. The left rear wheel extends 14 feet from the bike, and the tricycle has been altered so that it will only go in a counterclockwise direction. The title Longstem Rum Bud conflates two references: the words “red rum” uttered by the boy who peddles through the hallways in the film The Shining, 1980, and “rose bud” muttered by the lips of Orson Welles in Citizen Kane, 1941. The third childhood piece, Early centrifugal exposure (radial) [light/earth], 1991, is a merry-go-round, again wrapped in pewter-foil, with two yellow gonads and two eyeballs, each on their own little pewter-foil tray. This work suggests a demonstration from the 4-H club on how children first learn about centrifugal force.

Cleverness is simultaneously Grey’s strength and his weakness. The works strike either a bratty pop pose, or go for something dry and intellectually hardcore. In both cases the effect is pretentious. The information behind the pieces is interesting; the objects themselves are not. Grey provides the viewer with none of the necessary keys to his thinking that would make the objects significant and decipherable. Grey’s conceit is his smarts, so he turns up the jargon volume in every title. He has the mystery of science on his side, but this withholding of essential knowledge makes the work seem condescending and aloof.

Benjamin Weissman