Los Angeles

Jorge Pardo

In his first exhibition at this gallery, Jorge Pardo could be said to “deliver” without ever ceasing to hold back. First, there is the requisite upping of the ante, perfectly in keeping with the heightened expectations that come with this new territory, and then there is a deflation, also requisite. Pardo gives us a great deal to work with—perhaps too much—but pointedly leaves out the directions. Accordingly, the questions of what we should focus our attention on, how we should distinguish the fore-, middle-, and background, and where in the ensuing melee we stand are raised at every turn.

Overall, the show could be described as a kind of mise-en-sce`ne in which the tropes and conventions of installation art confront and ultimately reconcile with those of high-end commodity display. An advancing squadron of long, narrow tables in the main gallery recalls the military formations of Vanessa Beecroft’s photographs shown in this same space last year. The complexly interlocking joinery of their legs, meanwhile, could be a nod to Chris Burden’s more recent suite of erector-set sculptures, on view here in summer 2003. It would not be the first time that Pardo has conducted this sort of “inside joke” excavation—the J. Crew–style shelving that graced his first show at Luhring Augustine in Santa Monica, for instance, alluded to Matthew Barney’s early occupation as a model for the company (Barney’s first solo show took place at a nearby gallery that same year). Here, like there, however, the act of citation seems utterly promiscuous and cavalier. It is literally a pretext that affirms Pardo’s debt to the art of the ’80s and eagerly anticipates the decade(s) to come.

One thing this artist cannot be accused of is preciousness. The tables, while undeniably stylish, are made of low-grade plywood, unfinished and vaguely absurd in their baroque overarticulation. Their surfaces, moreover, are fitted with “paintings”: computer-generated compositions printed onto canvas, which was then splashed with varnish in a quick and easy approximation of facture. Jasper Johns’s dictum seems to prevail here: “Take an object, do something to it, do something else to it.” In the process, the art object is momentarily threatened with utility only to “turn the tables” (pace Marx) once more and assert instead the underlying frivolity and uselessness of everything else in the world. (Only the most reckless collector would eat off one of these things.)

These are paintings that one can look down on, but, by the same token, they could be said to be looking up—at, and then past, the viewer. Hanging from the gallery’s very high ceilings from electric wires of different lengths are lamps, seemingly modeled on underwater life-forms, abstractions of the ocean floor. The lamps owe their curlicued contours to a computerized process akin to the one that produced the tables and almost everything else in the show, including the shaped butcherpaper “drawings” upstairs and the individually framed “paintings” in the anterior gallery. If Pardo is here “collaborating” with any sort of material (pace Johns, again), it’s increasingly a technological one. He makes no attempt to occlude the crucial contributions of his new printer and prototyping table saw in all this and instead allows them to fulfill their inherent potential for a certain kind of complexity.

To an extent, Pardo simply lets the program run itself, which is increasingly his modus operandi, both in regard to the work of the studio and that of the gallery. That the “look” of the technological begins to bend back at the extreme toward the organic, becoming truly a “new nature,” is obviously a source of fascination here. The crisp lines of the Richard Meier–designed space are another; rising, as they do, idealistically ever upward, they provide the perfect contextual foil to the artist’s subaquatic fantasies. Neither side predominates, except in the gentle blurring of our perception of the totality: For Pardo, this is a most auspicious condition from which to begin rethinking the social function of art.

Jan Tumlir