New York

Jason Meadows

Considering that Paris Hilton, Richard Pryor, and porn star Nikki Nova have all played the role of subject for Jason Meadows in the past decade, and that the Los Angeles–based artist’s last exhibition at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery was titled after a Captain Beefheart album, the cultural references in his fourth solo outing there seemed almost quaint. The leitmotifs of “Frame Narrative” were two classics of that literary device in which one story contains or structures another, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Frankenstein. Lewis Carroll and Mary Shelley, like Meadows, consider the marvel—and peril—of turning nothing into something. The artist’s use of their nested tales both as a thematic point of departure and as an allegory for his own practice made for a diverting show. That he went even further, engaging the nine works on view in a sculptural exploration of what is often taken to be a nonsculptural convention, the frame, made for an excellent one.

Installed in the entryway, Monster Marquee (all works 2007) nods to Frankenstein’s pop-cultural afterlife in its dual images of the brute, spray-painted on overlapping, sliding rectangles of Plexiglas and arranged in a wooden box to resemble a medicine cabinet. If this sculpture hints at Meadows’s partiality for mise en abyme, Back at the Lab, a set of open wooden bookshelves interleaved with abstractly painted sheets of plastic, made it explicit. Traversing the entry to the main gallery space, the work both provided dozens of frames through which to observe the objects beyond it and, in cordoning off the room, rendered their correspondences even more apparent. Big Frank is a ragtag metal approximation of a human, trussed by chains and bungee cords, with pitchfork hands and a mop for a head; its towering build seems to reappear in the abstract Splatter Batik hung behind it. White Rabbit Extrusion, featuring fourteen silhouettes of the eponymous animal fastened at different points along thirteen lengths of neon yellow Plexiglas—a carnival shooting gallery on pause—is at once more whimsical and more sinister, and its staggered arrangement is reprised in the hippy-dippy striations of Electro Partyogram, which hung nearby. And on and on, so that what on first glance seem rather disparate objects come to feel like elements in a frame-up.

Meadows’s approach alternates between a kind of labored, shop-class assemblage and a glossier, look-ma-no-hands facility (again, the echoes: One method calls up Victor Frankenstein’s clumsy toils, the other the seamless transmogrifications that take place down the rabbit hole). Technique is either underkill or overkill. The spare components of Deadheads, three garish bronze heads impaled on steel pikes, are not only bolted to a doughnut-shaped pedestal but clamped to a triangular wooden support, while Grave Robber, four massive wooden coffins joined to form a square frame, rises an effortless nine feet, anchored only by a pile of dirt.

This show conjured fewer associations with the LA peers with whom Meadows is often grouped (Liz Craft, Evan Holloway) than it did with past masters. While Anthony Caro remains a dominant model, other affinities surfaced: to Jeff Koons’s gleaming bunnies, to Jackson Pollock’s bespattered canvases, and even to Umberto Boccioni, whose Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, 1913, is recast in construction dross as Big Frank. But there’s nothing anxious about Meadows’s influences, which function only as offhand, intermittent allusions to the history of his medium. “Oh dear! I shall be too late!” mutters the rabbit that Alice sees. Meadows does not seem worried, nor need he be.

Lisa Turvey