New York

Glenn Kaino

The Project

For his first solo show in New York, Los Angeles–based artist Glenn Kaino commandeered the gallery with two new sculptures, pointed in their social critique yet open-ended enough to allow multiple interpretations. Upstairs there was In Revolution (all works 2003), a heavy metal triangular base with an armored motor at its apex, supporting an eight-foot propeller-like arm. This angled arm spun at forty revolutions per minute, filling the room with the sound of its turning. Mounted at one end of the revolving arm was a three-foot-square curved architectural model of suburban real estate: a split-level house with a swimming pool (its water held in place by centrifugal force). At the other end of the propeller arm was a large rock.

On the one hand, you might say that the boulder (or, at that scale, meteor) is forever falling toward the tidy home, threatening, with every splash of the pool, its homeland security—a disaster that is imminent but eternally delayed. On the other hand, the boulder appears to be in perfect equilibrium with the home, acting as a necessary, benevolent (and politically convenient) counterweight. Without it, the established order would be overturned. The threat is what keeps things in place.

Downstairs was Desktop Operation: There’s no place like Home (10th example of Rapid Dominance: Em City), a greatly enlarged version of one of those little Japanese sand gardens Western CEOs (think Halliburton and Bechtel) keep on their desks to calm their minds. This desk toy with attitude had a now gargantuan wooden rake leaning against its fine-grained frame, and a meticulously crafted six-foot-high spiral ziggurat, ringed with soaring, crumbling spires, rising from the sand. Around the base of this sand castle of the id were scratched Xs, Os, and arrows, indicating a battle plan for an assault on the citadel—doodles drawing “a line in the sand.”

Kaino’s title invokes L. Frank Baum’s Emerald City of Oz, thought to have been inspired by the “White City” built for Chicago’s 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, which both Baum and his illustrator W.W. Denslow witnessed. On first seeing the glittering spires of this ideal metropolis, the latter wrote in his diary: “What a magnificent ruin they must make when all is finished.” Given the timing of this show, however, one thinks not of Oz but of the great spiral ziggurat at the ancient Sumerian city of Ur, now in southeastern Iraq. During the 1991 Gulf War, this structure was raked by US military machine-gun fire; its present status is unknown. And it is not far from here to the Tower of Babel, that enduring symbol of human hubris resulting in intractable cultural divisions. The shift in scale in both of Kaino’s pieces is mirrored by their shift from object to image, as both sculptures effectively materialize the current social mood of fustian precariousness.

David Levi Strauss