Los Angeles

Reverend Ethan Acres

Patricia Faure Gallery

For those of you who thought camp was dead, Reverend Ethan Acres has arrived to demonstrate that it was just festering in the open wound that is Las Vegas. Acres, recently featured in “The Vegas Show” at the Rosamund Felsen Gallery, is the product of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. The art world’s current focus on Las Vegas seems to be another sad attempt to recapture some of the glitz and instant marketability of the ’80s. This strategy takes a page directly from pop music by promoting a form of regionalism—searching for an art-world equivalent of Minneapolis or Seattle.

Acres has all the ingredients to be the poster boy for his adopted town, for he comes complete with an imposing physical presence, an earnestness that denies irony, and a mythic tale of origin. We learn that he was raised in a small town in northeastern Alabama. His mother, the daughter of a preacher father and snake-handler mother, married a charismatic preacher when Acres was four. This man had lost both arms in an accident in his teens, and he would frequently deliver his sermons without his artificial limbs. The young Acres’ task was to display these arms to the congregation. Acres remembers, “That was the point when I started thinking that the spectacle of religion is an overpowering phenomenon.”

This emphasis on spectacle is the cornerstone of Acres’ work. The Highway Chapel, a converted trailer home that sits outside the gallery entrance, is a mobile house of worship, complete with pulpit, altar, and a framed copy of Acres’ doctorate of divinity, earned through a home-study course over the Internet from the World Christian Ministries in Fresno. The trailer also features a mirrored ceiling, neon lights, a disco ball, purple carpeting, fake stained-glass windows, see-through wheel wells, and a transparent crucifix filled with bubbling holy water dyed bright red; the water also gurgles into sconces along the trailer walls.

The chapel manages to be harmlessly amusing, as do some of the other amalgamations of art and religion on view inside the gallery, including Camel Passing Through the Eye of a Needle, 1997, a large piece in yarn and matchsticks in which the biblical story has been transformed into the picture on the front of the Camel cigarette packet. But far too often Acres’ work strays dangerously close to pale imitation. His nearly human-sized stuffed bunnies, covered in materials ranging from gold and pink lamé to fake leopard skin, spring directly from a meeting between Jeff Koons and Nayland Blake. And the centerpiece of the exhibition, Lamb of God, 1996, a plastic hobbyhorse Acres has transformed into a beast with ten curved horns and seven glowing eyeballs, which emits Gregorian chants from its belly as it circles the gallery, is merely a cheesy recasting of the beast in one of Rauschenberg’s combines.

Lamb of God is indicative of Acres’ main problem—despite the voluminous narrative in which he has encased himself, and notwithstanding his habit of appending “D.D.” (Doctor of Divinity) to his signature, he is far more the canny art student than the evangelist. One can’t help noticing the copy of Foucault’s Discipline and Punish left conspicuously on the chapel pulpit. Reverend Acres clearly wants to make sure that we know he is hip to the theoretical work that purportedly underlies his attention-getting, but by no means novel, performance project.

Andrew Perchuk