New York

Tim Hawkinson

Ace Gallery

Los Angeles–based Tim Hawkinson may well be on his way to becoming a true crowd pleaser. A jack-of-all-trades populist who carries a torch for the dovetailing of Surrealism, AbEx assemblage, and proto-Conceptualism that characterizes the work of such artists as Jonathan Borofsky and West Coast precursors Bruce Conner, Ed Kienholz, and the early Bruce Nauman, Hawkinson’s presentation is a retrospective-like selection of 64 works from 1991 to the present that may gain him a reputation as one of the hardest-working artists around. A veritable art salad—a swap meet where esthetic pluralism is the rule—this exposition features silver paintings that endeavor to tweak high Modernist geometric abstraction, figurative objects made from synthetic materials that hover overhead like friendly ghosts, an assortment of Rube Goldberg–ian apparatuses that evoke the human form and do funny kinetic things, a machine that produces drawings installed on the wall like wallpaper, and other items. Unfortunately, Hawkinson’s show also provides ample evidence that quantity is not synonymous with quality.

This exhibition tells the story of an artist preoccupied with the need to invent yet burdened with a rather lackluster imagination. A “Nutty Professor” let loose in the studio, Hawkinson will experiment with any formal operation that might generate the effects of physical and psychological self-realization. He wants to transform both himself and his life into props for his art; at the same time he’d like the art to behave like an artifact of his calculated whimsy, putting his “identity”—the vestiges of his body and signs of his material existence—on parade in a not-so-jocular variety of grotesque forms. For example, here’s the artist’s description of Slough Shadow, 1991: “My bathwater, horded and distilled, was poured into the sealed canvas which was pressed into a dishlike form in the shape of my shadow. After the liquid evaporated, the canvas was stretched, leaving this discarded reconstituted skin.” And Humongolous, 1995: “Humongolous is a map charting all the surfaces of my skin which I could see directly. Starting with my left hand, I gridded off my palm and painted square by square onto the larger grid drawn on the paper. In this way I wound around my hand, up my arm and across the rest of my epidermis detailing and expanding the areas which were more accessible.” And while I did take some pleasure in Hawkinson’s Head, 1995, an inflated latex rubber casting of the artist’s bathroom—a freakish extroversion of private domain for the sake of public display—the pathetic nature of this monstrously huge object was diluted by the crowding of other pieces into the spacious room.

In essence, Hawkinson is the classic narcissist-as-artist: pathologically committed to developing new methods and techniques of self-reference and self-representation in order to offer the proof of his own existence. All this is delivered through a sort of disingenuous wackiness tendered by the artist’s indulgent metaphors of the self, where piousness is disguised behind a look of irreverence. Many of Hawkinson’s works stretch the cool yet penetrating irony of Nauman’s body/self-oriented pieces (e.g., From Hand to Mouth, 1967) into a caricature of the questions of identity raised by his previous work. The problem here is that Hawkinson’s sculptures, paintings, machinelike kinetic objects, and installations seem designed to be nothing much more, in the end, than sufficiently weird.

Joshua Decter