Los Angeles

Chadwick Rantanen

Jancar Jones

As America slogs through its new recession-era corporate landscape, Chadwick Rantanen’s installation of sculpture and photographs perhaps most obviously evoked the semicustomized, sturdy-for-the-price furnishings of modest industrial-park start-up offices. With this show, the artist mined the aesthetics of efficiency—and perhaps therapy—using such mundane light-corporate materials as sandblasted glass in soothing hues, burnished metal, and abstract images that speak of low-risk investment in the future. In effect, the work communicated a catalogue of postmeltdown minimalist tropes, with an emphasis on the ways in which decor adapts to and reflects our present cultural moment.

While the installation as a whole seemed solid in form, each constituent element was presented slightly off-kilter, and there was pathos in the way the work constantly announced its need for assistance. For example, seven tinted glass panels, which made up the series “Untitled (Glass)” (all works 2010), were braced by cylindrical stainless steel clamps an inch off the wall, creating a void of dead space between object and support. These motivational poster–size surfaces, alternating between smoky gray and turquoise and blue, were hung awkwardly low, angled uniformly to the left, and featured boring clip art–like circles and rectilinear borders that had been sandblasted into their surfaces. Since all elements were modular and assembled according to a seemingly randomized pattern, their utilitarian functions were hard to take seriously, the works becoming instead purely decorative, if not just illusory.

In another series, “Untitled (Sand),” eight digitally desaturated photographs appeared grainy and vaguely sensual. Potentially depicting beach or desert, but most likely studio staged, these images resembled classical Edward Weston–style shots of body contours and abstracted limbs. Bordered in black frames much larger than their own small dimensions, the pictures seemed to suggest that the full reach of each was being occluded (or protected?) by its excessively wide matte. But these works were also simply photographs of sand—not incidentally, the core material used to inscribe the glass panels they faced.

In the open area of the gallery, Rantanen had installed a thin bright crimson rod of anodized aluminum, Telescopic Pole (Tennis Balls Red). Capped on either end with said balls (like the legs of a walker), the rod stood unnervingly erect, held in place between floor and ceiling by tension alone. Meanwhile, in the hallway, wedged between the grimy carpet and the angled bottom of a stairway, a wan, colorless version, Telescopic Pole (Tennis Balls), languished.

While there was a persistent feeling that Rantanen’s installation was speaking the language of institutional critique, or at least self-reflexivity (given that this work is always modified to adapt to the conditions of its site), it’s difficult to ascertain where exactly the critical fulcrum fell: Was the work’s flexibility reflecting some fear of autonomous objects, the ephemeral working conditions of post-Fordist labor? Were decorative details such as the sandblasted accents and excessive matting sincere or mocking touches? Yet even if Rantanen’s project felt somewhat mired in the flotsam of light industry, his conflicting signals of possibility and defeat did generate a concrete sense of aesthetic hope—with wry awareness of the term’s recent political history.

Glen Helfand