New York

Richard Jackson

Yvon Lambert New York

Venerable California artist Richard Jackson might be thought of as a missing link between the Viennese actionists and contemporaries such as Paul McCarthy, Bruce Nauman, or even the late Jason Rhoades. His recent exhibition at Yvon Lambert’s Twenty-fifth Street location (the final show in that space) featured previously seen drawings and an installation, as well as a new eight-panel wall painting reprising what has generally been regarded as Jackson’s signature style. These older (and older-style) works form a kind of historical backdrop to the subsequent inaugural exhibition at Yvon Lambert’s new space a few blocks south where the centerpiece was Jackson’s new installation, The War Room (all works 2006–2007).

The War Room consists of a large aluminum-framed faceted icosahedron covered in canvas. On one side the canvas opens, like a triangular double door, so viewers can peer in and see that the interior side of the fabric is printed with a colorful map of the world. Outside of this structure are positioned pairs of five-and-a-half-foot-high cartoonlike fiberglass ducks dressed in fatigue jackets and wearing doughboy helmets and binoculars. Outfitted with paint-spraying apparatuses that protrude phallically from their nether regions (the artist used this equipment to liberally splatter multicolored pigment around before the show), the “Duck Generals,” with their hemispherical breasts (“tits” seems, for once, a better word here) for eyes, stand facing each other in three evenly spaced pairs.

The metaphor is heavy-handed but the point seems no less worthy of reiteration, especially considering the fourth pair. While the nations and continents (spotted with oil rigs) are just visible on the globe’s exterior, it is in the structure’s interior—the opening into which was positioned away from the entrance to the exhibit—that we discover the vignette that is the installation’s focal point. Here we see the last two generals, the white one (looking away from us) screwing the black one (whose face we see as he lies on his belly) from behind.

Jackson’s blunt indictment of the Western war machine is thus couched in psychosexual terms. The War Room references the homoerotic dimension of combat, as well as the covert homosexuality that exists within the military and occasionally surfaces violently in phenomena such as the systematic sexual torture conducted at Abu Ghraib, which included the rape of an adolescent boy. In emphasizing such associations, Jackson appears to counter the entire raison d’être of contemporary militarism by foregrounding and allegorizing its fundamental hypocrisy. The artist’s garish aesthetic seems here to suggest that the language used to attack prevailing orthodoxies must be as clear and strong as possible if it is to have any impact. The possibility that such language is perhaps being used to preach to the converted is mitigated not only by art’s potential to spill over cultural and academic boundaries into broader societal consciousness (the risk Jackson runs seems real enough in our archly jingoistic moment), but also by a sense that it is the waste (and wasting) of our culture more broadly that is the target here.

This particular brand of scrutiny is perhaps more evident in the show’s other large installation, The Delivery Room, a hermetic box into which viewers may peer through a small window. Inside the box is a grotesque, revolving tableau of two paint-splattered plastic mannequins. The female, her legs splayed, is giving birth on a metal bed while a crash-test-dummy-like “doctor” straddles her awkwardly from above, bending stiffly at the waist (his ass-end above her head) as if waiting to catch the baby. The dense panorama is highly artificial, a plastic pileup that plainly references the all-too-real macrocosm into which the microcosm is being “delivered.”

As much exorcism as excoriation, Jackson’s works also touch on the prophetic. Fiercely mocking, even profane provocations that strike at any number of still-cherished cultural tropes (whether childbirth or the image of the noble soldier), they are expressive of a timely, impolitic, and protean outrage, what Wallace Stevens called nobility, “a violence from within that protects us from a violence without.”

Tom Breidenbach