Los Angeles

Ryan Taber

Mark Moore Gallery

Within the fluidly baroque form of one small sculpture, a cast-plastic jellyfish inspired by the illustrations of nineteenth-century naturalist Ernst Haeckel appears to arise from or descend onto a miniature, hand-hewn wooden replica of a 1901 Art Nouveau music stand by Alexander-Louis-Marie Charpentier. Snarled among the invertebrate’s tentacles is the wreckage of a biplane, which turns out to be that of the Italian literary figure Gabriele D’Annunzio, a World War I hero and a protofascist. One of three sculptures accompanied by a collection of works on paper in graphite and watercolor (all works 2006), this piece exemplifies Ryan Taber’s penchant for spatiotemporal rifts and displacements of iconography.

D’Annunzio’s airplane is a recurring motif throughout the show. Among the works on paper, it is shown—adorned with the tits, male genitals, and “she-he-it” insignia with which the on-the-run hippies decorated their stolen plane in Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1970 counterculture box-office blunder Zabriskie Point— swooping over a Haeckelesque bird’s nest assembled from bits of the “Tree of Life”— patterned leaded glass windows installed in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Martin House. In Taber’s drawings, carefully rendered jellyfish and birds—one seeming to have evolved with colors and markings similar to those of D’Annunzio’s aircraft—force the lines of Wright’s panes to behave perspectivally as backdrops for their inhabitants. Habitation and absence become three-dimensional in a second sculpture, a tribute to Zabriskie Point star Mark Frechette, who after a few years of post-stardom communal living died in a jailhouse weightlifting accident. In it, a leaded glass replica of a Robie House window is folded into a freestanding structure, suggestive of trees, bricoleurish architecture, and a watchtower, and playing host to an empty nest.

The centerpiece of Taber’s show is a model of a saguaro cactus and an outcropping of rock. The patch of faux desert was sculpted from a still lifted from a scene in Zabriskie Point in which the female lead gazes up at a cliff-top house designed by a Wright protégée and imagines it exploding. Taber’s landscape is strewn with wreckage—not that of a modernist home, but rather shrapnel from what appears to be the exploded cast iron of Hector Guimard’s Art Nouveau Metro entrance adjacent to the Louvre.

From the midst of all this debris, Taber’s work emerges as informed by both the skepticism of Sam Durant and the pseudomythological detailing of Matthew Barney. As with these artists—both of whom are immediate generational predecessors to Taber—the liability of the work is its presumption of cultural familiarity and reliance on its audience’s enthusiasm for decoding cultural minutiae. Taber’s tendency to weave titles with names, terms, and dates—providing keyword leg-ups for boomers with fading memories or kids Googling the checklist on their cell phones—signals such dependency, and it evinces a certain insecurity on the artist’s part about where the strength of his work resides. That strength—which would be further enhanced were the artist to devote more attention to composition and perfecting his almost-there craftsmanship—lies in Taber’s ability to deliver compelling clashes of style, form, and association.

Christopher Miles