Los Angeles

Liz Craft

Peres Projects


I imagine that this was a common response to Liz Craft’s new sculptures, a gang of, as the press release put it, “hairy dudes” hitchhiking, gathering daffodils, and generally hanging around.

The figures look like the spawn of Cousin It and R. Crumb’s 1967 Keep on Truckin’ guy. In southern California, the word “dude” isn’t gender specific, and all that “hair” serves only to occlude somatic markers of gender. With their skinny, dingy pink arms and bulbous, flaccid schnozzes, Craft’s bronzes are puzzling, but she’s also taking on some issues that are weightier than it might appear at first glance.

Craft is never not crafty in her deployment of materials, so it would be dumb to miss the “inappropriateness” of using immortal, memorial bronze for such a seemingly cartoonish endeavor. What happens if we consider her figures in light of Rodin’s Monument to Balzac, 1891–98, a crux of modernism? Rodin planned his monument as a nude, but then draped Balzac in the monk’s robe he frequently wore when writing, thereby abstracting the author’s body into a concealed force without specific articulation and focusing attention on the monk’s head. In 1979, Rosalind Krauss wrote that Rodin’s bronze creates “an absolute loss of place.” By comparison, our current moment makes that placelessness feel absolutely, if paradoxically, sited: It’s difficult now to imagine not only a radical artist being commissioned to pay homage to another, but also the existence of consensus on a worthy subject. Craft begins with bronze as a way to question the viability of monumentality while pushing figuration to its nonrepresentational limits.

One of the key works in the show was Deflated Hairy Guy (all works 2005), which would look like a soiled mop if it weren’t for the eerie eyeholes and gold antennae tipped with brilliantly verisimilar cast “Styrofoam” balls. The entire affair resembles some sort of costume, but neither the hairy guy’s musculoskeletal system nor his concealed force have been deflated (perhaps the title describes his lack of exuberance?) as much as they’ve disappeared. The sculpture’s careful casting allows the weight of the bronze to seem ghostly, its disembodied hairiness suggesting Balzac’s robe, a strange kind of burka, or the black hoods of Abu Ghraib.

The ricochet of reference in Craft’s work is accomplished in part by her ability to engineer a nonlinear narrative in the space around her figures, allowing it to resonate with political tension. Dirty pink toes protruding from his mane, Hairy Guy (with arms in the air) may be emerging from hiding and facing arrest, or perhaps just offering praise. While Hairy Guy (with flower basket) carries a flower-filled wicker basket in his left hand, he looks ready to stuff the daffodils in his right into the end of any gun barrel that might be trained in his direction. Nearby, Hairy Guy (with Babies) leads five little tykes on a quest for shelter. These furballs are the only figures with visible eyes, as if witnessing were too risky, too painful, or no longer possible for any but those too young to understand.

With these hirsute countercultural dudes, Craft harries political unthinking with the sculptural equivalent of Neil Young songs momentarily hacked into every podcast. The figures sweetly derange any straightforward political program by invoking various others: They become hoboes representing those dispossessed by Operation Freedom as well as America’s own homeless. Hairy Guy (with thought balloon) attempts to speak to this contradictory moment; a variegated patchwork of stained glass fills a windowlike thought bubble in a statement that is hopeful because beyond language’s contingency.

Bruce Hainley