Los Angeles

Lynn Aldrich

Sue Spaid Fine Art

Ever since Reaganomics began to take its toll on the vestiges of the middle class, the American dream just hasn’t been the same. The multimedia installations in Lynn Aldrich’s recent show, entitled “Running Out,” collectively interrogate the nefarious underside of late-capitalist ideologies of domesticity.

Entering this complex, tightly packed exhibition, the visitor is overwhelmed by the pervasive smell of air-freshener—an assaultive “spice” odor that insinuates itself into one’s consciousness. Placed ceremoniously on a faux-marble-topped pedestal, a huge wedge of Renuzit cast in the extended oval shape of solid underarm deodorant slowly dissolves as it releases its “homey” smell. In the second half of this piece, which is appropriately entitled Vanitas, 1992, Aldrich carefully documents this decay in daily Polaroid pictures inserted into the pages of an album labeled with handwritten lines from Ecclesiastes. Photographs of the blob of Renuzit, slowly transformed from a moist, gleaming red, glossy shaft to the increasingly desiccated lump, are juxtaposed with dramatic biblical proclamations (“So I became great and surpassed all who were before me . . . ”). The ridiculous is made uncomfortably “sublime” in a process that examines, as it mimics, the attempts of advertising to sell glamour to Americans who can’t afford “real” class.

Sub-Division, 1990, a claustrophobically arranged pack of menacing sections of white picket fence, addresses related questions. The Huck Finn whiteness of these signifiers of holistic and cheerful suburban life glare threateningly in the unremitting, artificial light of the gallery. Jammed together tightly into a square formation, they reference the urban crowds supposedly left behind in the exodus to the suburbs. This hellish yet amusing view of the regulatory devices ensuring suburban comfort has its counterpart in the evocative Sculpture Found While Seeking Landscape, 1990, which consists of two small-scale biomorphic forms, with smoothly polished surfaces worn down into depressions and gently rounded holes, reminiscent of Henry Moore sculptures. Resting on bright green Astroturf atop a pedestal covered with a Plexiglas box, the sculptures are in fact salt licks that were discovered by Aldrich while taking a walk and then were domesticated as art.

Aldrich’s strategy of transforming mundane artifacts into stunningly formalist arrangements is a highly effective means of examining both specific high-cultural forms and the rich symbolism of mass-produced domestic materials. In Shelf Life, 1992, for example, she wedges an array of food cans stripped of their labels into a niche above the gallery door. The arrangement of cans with their complexly textured surfaces reads like a miniature Louise Nevelson in metal. Constructed of cans of perishable food products, the piece references the Vanitas theme again, raising questions of rot—of the shelf life of food products, as well as of specific modes of artistic conception and display.

Aldrich also creates artfully ephemeral objects out of waxed paper: a “painting” entitled Time To Buy ‘Cut-Rite,’ 1992, is constructed of a cascade of compressed translucent sheets with rough edges torn by the serrated aluminum strip on the box, arranged in a frame, and Cumulonimbus, 1992, (a less interesting version of her earlier elegant waxed paper takeoffs on Robert Morris’ felt pieces) consists of a tumble of waxed paper suspended from the ceiling on paper-towel holders.

Aldrich’s strategic imbrication of the domestic with the high cultural relates obliquely to earlier feminist projects of recuperating and reinvesting domestic materials and modes of production. The strength of her work comes from the connections it proposes between signifiers of suburban domesticity with broad ideologies of bourgeois subjectivity, as well as from her deployment of diverse materials and formats within a coherent conceptual framework. The exhibition itself becomes an open-ended commentary on the intertwined discourses and sites of bourgeois humanism and Modernist artistic practice.

Amelia Jones