New York

Jason Rhoades

David Zwirner | 519 West 19th Street

Jason Rhoades has come a long way since his first New York installation in 1993, which consisted of a messy mechanic’s shop transplanted to the gallery (complete with greasy engine overhaul in progress). The artist’s recent project “Of Perfect World” makes clear that his increasingly sophisticated experimentation with materials, design ideas, and presentation formats is matched by ever more complex conceptualization.

Extracted from his massive 22,000-square-foot installation “Perfect World,” produced for the Hamburg Deichtorhallen in 1999, “Of Perfect World” featured sections of custom-made aluminum scaffolding polished to a high gleam, reconfigured to conform to the gallery’s interiors and to represent a building identified as “Sutter’s Mill.” It was John Sutter, you might recall, who is credited with single-handedly igniting the California gold rush when he found nuggets in the tailrace of the mill he constructed to provide building materials for homesteaders. Sutter’s Mill, 2000, was accessorized with wall-mounted “hard-drive flatworks” whose LCD screens displayed images that faded slowly in and out of one another (from among thousands of computerized picture files). Throughout the show’s run, the aluminum-tubing structure was moved from one room of the gallery to the other and thus existed in a constant state of construction/deconstruction. The manually assisted, perpetually kinetic aspect of this “becoming–Sutter’s Mill” was amplified by the regularly renewed imagery on the computer screens, which referenced the planning and production of “Of Perfect World” as well as the indexical theme, with a video featuring Rhoades’s mother and father playing Ma and Pa Sutter constructing the mill.

From the viewer’s perspective, the ever-changing physicality of Rhoades’s art, be it a structure that won't stay put or framed works that display a different image every few seconds, leads the way to virtual visual environments that exist as fields of activity rather than static objects positioned within fixed interiors. What makes this update of the vintage–Conceptual art notion of propositions and dematerializations postmodern is that Rhoades grounds his activity in personal, albeit idiosyncratic ways. A garden that appears on one screen turns out to be his father’s, photographed midway in a growing season while in need of weeding, a state that is particularly resonant in relation to the forever becomingness of the scaffolding version of Sutter’s Mill. It’s possible that personal motivations (including the urge to build big, shiny things) point to a fundamental arbitrariness that informs Rhoades's art and that manifests itself physically and conceptually as a kind of sprawl—like Los Angeles (where he lives), like a rhizome. It’s too much, it doesn’t know when to stop; in fact, there is no “stop,” only excess contained by a process in which the nomadic subject is constantly connecting to and restructuring itself and never reaches a finalized state. Perhaps what Rhoades finds most fascinating about Sutter’s story is that he didn’t come out on top: His mill was eventually torn down and he lost his fortune, all more or less by accident. Arbitrariness, at play as subjectivity in Rhoades’s work, is contingent on the flux of construction and deconstruction, the simultaneity of going up and coming down, and aligns with the temporary, the mobile, the conditional—and that’s so much grist for the mill when it comes to thinking not just about the changing postmodern world but also who we might be in it.

Jan Avgikos