Los Angeles

Katie Grinnan


Katie Grinnan’s recent exhibition was called “Cheerleaders and Bandwagons.” Her choice of a title with such a distinctly American ring to it made perfect sense, given that the sculptural gymnastics that define her latest works not only resonate with the country’s current antics on the global geopolitical stage but also engage in the near-universal tradition that Americans have managed to turn into a national fetish: honoring one’s forefathers.

The forefathers (and mothers) in question are an odd lot—some hail from the mists of history, others from the generation whose work was in play when Grinnan was born, in 1970: Pop artists, Minimalists, and Expanded Field sculptors. In this show, Grinnan emerges as among the most sophisticated of a gaggle of artists of her generation who share a predilection for time-travel in their quest to consume previous eras’ takes on the ideas and potentialities of radicalism, idealism, and hipness, and perhaps to retrieve some tools and tricks that might prove handy in the present.

Cheerleaders, 2005–2006, typifies Grinnan’s sensibility. One component of the piece is a large color photograph, in oranges and reds, of a squad of four cheerleaders in a cross formation—wholesome enough, except the cheerleaders have no heads. It’s hard not to see this as a “before” photo and the adjacent three-dimensional presentation that completes the work as the “after.” A red-orange-painted area of wall and floor frames a chaotic spray of diced and spliced cast-plastic bodies suggestive of a Futurist attempt to capture the dynamism of a cheering routine in a static form, or of what the squad might look like after Gordon Matta-Clark—or an improvised explosive device—got through with it. The work simultaneously reaches out toward the bubblegummiest element of Warhol’s vision, with its bathing of populist imagery in saturated color, and toward the darkest of Nauman’s—suggesting a jumbled hell of exuberance, irritation, and formalized violence.

Most of the gallery was taken up with video documentation and other relics of Grinnan’s Rubble Division project, 2005–2006, the centerpiece of which was a multifaceted construction of mounted photographs—a hybrid of Cubist Assemblage and Matta-Clark’s “anarchitecture”—depicting a modernist structure. The back of the work explodes into a cluster of images of a demolished building, supported by a substructure of twisted rebar and concrete rubble. A love child of visionary architecture and the entropic postindustrial ruins that dotted Robert Smithson’s 1967 essay A Tour of the Monuments of Passaic, a differently configured version of Grinnan’s monument took a tour of its own, documented in four videos, also on show here. In three of these the sculpture was mounted on a trailer and accompanied by henchmen (including members of the band the Meat Bees) camouflaged in fabric printed with the same imagery as its panels. The piece became a kind of single-float parade that stopped off at the artsy-outdoorsy bookends of the High Desert Test Sites in Joshua Tree, California, and Socrates Sculpture Park in Long Island City, New York, making in-between appearances across America at locations including Washington, DC, New Orleans, and Crawford, Texas.

More modest but no less notable were two other works in the exhibition. A digital print titled Church, 2005, shows a white, wood-sided church fractured and twisted into a form that gives the phrase “holy rollers” a new meaning. Recalling the bisected house in Matta-Clark’s Splitting, 1974, and Vincent van Gogh’s distorted Church at Auvers-sur- Oise, ca. 1890, Grinnan’s is an update for the age of Photoshop and the Christian right. Meltdown, 2006, meanwhile, is all Smithson and Lynda Benglis, with a dash of Tatlin, a dollop of Mae West, and a scoop of Marilyn Monroe—a spiraling mound of crumpled steel, rubber, wax, fabric, and goo that is as brilliant a display of form as it is a monument of its moment. If one could crack its scrambled codes, it might say something along the lines of “Happy birthday, Mr. President.”

Christopher Miles