Los Angeles

Jason Rhoades

Rosamund Felsen Gallery

Not satisfied with the visionary and the genius, the ’70s art world began marketing a new line of action hero, a kind of AWOL. G.I. Joe who staged reckless experiments using improper materials (polyurethane, loaded guns, raw meat) and whose antics were greeted by much horror and excitement. Critics outfitted this basement scientist with a beret and some structuralist vocabulary and announced the discovery of the bricoleur. Today, with a bookish art scene eager to prove it’s still crazy after all these years (or perhaps imports from France have gone beyond theory to love of Jerry Lewis?), that now age-softened, avuncular quack-of-all-trades has returned for a curtain call as newcomers line up to pay tribute with the kind of nostalgia typical of Las Vegas floor shows.

Enter Jason Rhoades, fresh out of school and touting a slick comic routine that suggests Home Improvement’s Tim Allen impersonating Monsieur Lewis’ nutty professor. Guffaws abound, but the net result falls well short of the laugh riot Rhoades labors to ignite. Titling his first hometown solo show “Swedish Erotica and Fiero Parts,” he crammed the gallery chock-full of Woebegon merchandise, a vast inventory that included such oxymorons as a wagon-wheel dining table made of Styrofoam, Styrofoam pallets and bookcases, notebook-paper bath mats, and toilet-paper doorknobs (“formed to the artist’s hand,” deadpans the checklist). Intent on assembling the ultimate one-stop shopping store, Rhoades even offered a 1984 Pontiac Fiero for sale, parked outside the gallery’s rear entrance.

At $3,000 the Fiero seemed a definite steal, except that the ’84 model is best known as a well-intentioned piece of shit, the brainchild of those wacky Detroit bricoleurs who patched the car together from disparate storeroom clutter, then cloaked it in a sporty plastic chassis. Along with the Fiero, Rhoades made numerous references to Ikea furniture, another manufacturer promising to deliver quality to the common man. A failed attempt at economy is Rhoades’ primary motif. He’s adopted the Post-it yellow, in which the gallery’s exterior was also painted for this show, as his product line’s unifying esthetic, a move that would’ve done Henry Ford proud (“They can have any color art they want, as long as it’s yellow”). Rather than streamline his output, though, the color limitation leads to absurd metonymic associations—plastic bananas, toy chicks, overripe grapefruits, and rain jackets popped up throughout the exhibition.

A variation on recent scatter art and Yale-alum shenanigans, Rhoades’ art too begs a psychological reading. His jerry-build contraptions evoke fetishes—both share the quality of irrational, makeshift solutions—and his work ethic openly displays all the trappings of compulsive behavior. But Rhoades hedges his bets; his art appears hatched from a mind not so much twisted as teensy. In lieu of pathology, we get attitude, the difference being that he gets to keep his cool even while he joeks about losing it. Pumping up the volume of objects seems his only means of fattening the art’s damningly faint whimsy. There’s even a sense in which the humor feels awkward, as if it self-deprecating tone were meant as an apology for the installation’s machismo, a way for Rhoades to bracket his brawny workload by admitting to its perverse motivations and unfulfilling results. Here the proud bread-winner concedes that he too is damaged and foolhardy and his antics therefore pardonable. It’s like on Labor Day, when the nutty professor is shown to be a caring humanitarian, and it’s assumed—wrongly—that we should feel grateful to him.

Lane Relyea