Los Angeles

John Williams

Dan Bernier Gallery

Noisy sounds and flashing lights, things spinning around, seemingly casual combinations of materials: It would be easy to think that John Williams’s sculptures were the result of hanging out at too many loud parties in friends’ basements or frat houses. That’s part of the work’s charm, something goofy, blunt, and basically male about the object. The charm only increases when you begin to consider all the delicacy amid the boisterousness: butterflies, stained glass, flowers, tinsel.

Washing Machine and Butterflies, 1999, positions a rotating spotlight atop a tiny washing machine—its operating knob made of a single lemon cookie—covered in fake granite paneling. Hanging on the walls around it are long pieces of wire, each ending in a winglike loop fitted with pieces of colored gels. As the spotlight turns, it shoots a beam through each loop, fleetingly projecting a second wing on the wall and creating an illusion of fluttering. The simple yet hypnotic effect dazzles as it carefully situates many of the formal concerns of Williams’s work: the shadows and projections caused by light hitting an opaque material or passing through a transparent substance, the consequence of rotating either a light source or its target, the music suggested by rotation, and the relation among projected, spatial, and sculptural dynamics.

Williams is inspired by male car-audio culture, the objectness and materiality of the shiny metallic automobile (a sculpture-like thing that moves, that can be inhabited, that makes noise, and that potentially provides one of the best acoustic chambers). Coat Rack, 1998, elegantly probes the erotic nature of sound systems and of the guys who fiddle and fine-tune them: A long pipe of white PVC is held midair, like a limbo bar, at one end by the wall it abuts and at its opposite end by an abstracted scrotumlike shape formed by a wedge of two plywood panels with a Sony car-stereo unit on one side. From the carpeted interior of the wedge, crotch-level speakers ooze a throbbing bass line. It’s difficult not to read the parka draped over the pipe as analogous to a coat covering up a hard-on.

In this body of work Williams also meditates on the transparency as a medium, which, despite its importance in the dissemination of art in the twentieth century, often (perhaps because of its ubiquity) goes ignored. Although other artists have deployed the slide, no one has interrogated its sheer goofiness or projected beauty as well as Williams. His tour de force, Slide Projector, 1999, is a huge audio tech tower run amok, a “tree” created out of aluminum poles that branch to form platforms staggered at different levels, three of which hold turntables that spin albums. Each revolving record is the base for an elaborate sculptural pile about the size of a fancy hat, made up of a wild accumulation of slides (of the Parthenon, of suited corporate CEOs), plastic bags from a mushroom company called Boys Love Girls, yogurt cups, rhinestone earrings, tinsel, and a plastic bunny head. The album’s grooves are mixed, fed through an amp, and blasted through the space while lights aimed through the sculptures project prismatic colors and shadows onto the gallery walls. The work poses the question of what activates sculptural space most completely: light, sound, materials, or some combination of all three?

The inventiveness and daring of Williams’s work joins the Swiss loopiness of Fischli and Weiss to the SoCal science experimentation of Martin Kersels. Offering an escape to silence as well as to an improbable interiority, Leaning Box/NW2, 1999, a large cardboard box braced by wood, leaned against the wall, a wallflower to the party around it. Its side announced “MADE IN USA” but brooked no comment as to the beauties of the incommunicative vulnerable masculinity it suggested, while all the noise and light flashed to distract you from noticing it at all.

Bruce Hainley