Los Angeles

View of “Scott Benzel,” 2011. Foreground: Counterfeit Nike “Heaven’s Gate” SB Dunks, 2011. Background: Original posters for The Trip (1967) with original stickers, 2011.

View of “Scott Benzel,” 2011. Foreground: Counterfeit Nike “Heaven’s Gate” SB Dunks, 2011. Background: Original posters for The Trip (1967) with original stickers, 2011.

Scott Benzel

Human Resources LA

View of “Scott Benzel,” 2011. Foreground: Counterfeit Nike “Heaven’s Gate” SB Dunks, 2011. Background: Original posters for The Trip (1967) with original stickers, 2011.

On a boxy monitor in an upstairs gallery at Human Resources—a young Chinatown space dedicated to performance and nontraditional exhibitions—footage from a 1969 TV show played in a perpetual time-coded loop: Beach Boy Dennis Wilson crooning for the camera, sloe-eyed and benign, his lips falling in and out of sync with three takes of the same song. The piece, 1. The Beach Boys perform “Never Learn Not to Love” live on the Mike Douglas show, 1969; 2.Charles Manson, “Cease to Exist,” 1968; 3. The Beach Boys “Never Learn Not to Love” studio version, 1969 (all works 2011), was one of twenty-seven objects that comprised LA-based artist Scott Benzel’s solo exhibition “Maldistribution,” a meticulous collection of popular artifacts chosen for their veiled cultural histories, uncomfortable associations, and protracted afterlives. In the video, Benzel’s straightforward juxtaposition of sound and image (and of versions of songs) demonstrated how an unsavory original tune (a gritty number written by a murderous cult leader) was repackaged—with softened lyrics, sunny harmonics, and a pert double-negative title—into a product more palatable for a mass audience.

The indexical stockpile of objects that Benzel accumulated for this show—easily reproducible and in widespread circulation—seemed unified by how easily they lent themselves to consumption. But the inverse was also true, as each object could similarly be defined by its suppression, the likelihood of it being used for something other than its initial intentions. Among the items on view were a counterfeit pair of Nike SB Dunk high-tops, which the brand stopped producing when they were found on the feet of every corpse of the Heaven’s Gate cult; three posters for the 1967 film The Trip with covered-up tag-lines that, at the time, the movie’s own PR firm deemed inappropriate, and a doctored image of a nude Princess Diana. Between the poles of mass production and mass dissension, Benzel located a captivating (even tawdry) value that connects and presents these seemingly dissimilar items with an almost didactic confidence. For example, in one of the show’s three horizontal glass vitrines, a selection of “high” and “low” items was assembled into an orderly display: pipes (disguised as lipstick, encasing fake flowers, and as a mock highlighter); a Kmart–distributed album by psychedelic rockers Silver Apples; Lynda Benglis’s notorious 1974 Artforum advertisement; and the first issue of October, which had been catalyzed in part by Artforum’s decision to permit the artist to run that scandalous ad. The tight combination implicated object as outlaw, discourse as censor, and viewer as consumer.

Approaching these relics with the same studied proficiency and weird invention as his musical scores, performance, video, writing and sound installation, Benzel activated connections between disparate pop histories with wit and fascination. In musical projects like his 2010 commission Music from The Trip (1967) in the style of a Schoenberg-Gershwin tennis match observed in passing by Dr. Oscar Janiger, the artist imagines a hypothetical yet fact-based scenario (as the title describes), using it as an entry point for the work. The aura of heaviness surrounding some dusty hall of infamy may resurface in Benzel’s upcoming works like La Bas—a new composition, based on the work of J. K. Huysmans, Olivier Messiaen, and Malcolm McLaren, to be presented in part by the American Composers Forum this fall—and Funhouse—which will reference both the Stooges album of the same name as well as the fun-house setting in Orson Welles’s Lady from Shanghai, and will be performed during the Getty-sponsored Pacific Standard Time festival. Less an “object maker” than a collector, fan, researcher, or archivist, Benzel nimbly traces the narratives of how objects come into being and eventually how (at least in the popular consciousness) they cease to exist.

Catherine Taft