New York

View of “Rodney McMillian,” 2012.

View of “Rodney McMillian,” 2012.

Rodney McMillian

Maccarone | 630 Greenwich Street

View of “Rodney McMillian,” 2012.

“Prospect Ave.”: It has such an aspirational ring that one can’t help but expect a slum—or perhaps the rotting-from-within Main Street of Stepford. Pressing the name of his old street into service as the title for his first solo outing at Maccarone, Los Angeles–based artist Rodney McMillian surely had in mind its unintended appeal to the cynical impulse; it would be difficult to imagine a less comfortable or homey pad than this chilly cave full of mutant furniture, flayed carpeting, and self-consciously lumpen painterly environments. Committed to identifying parallels between socioeconomic demarcations and the arguably more enduring superstructures of our mental and physical selves, McMillian here enveloped viewers in a raw and oppressive conjoining of real and imaginative space.

Visitors entered the gallery by passing through a state of kemmering in the Council-era of corrosion, 2012, a collection of black-vinyl scraps sewn together by hand and installed in a kind of tunnel leading to and from the front door. The work’s look reflects McMillian’s established penchant for dark tones, prosaic materials, and rough presentation, as well as his tendency to exploit the peculiarities of a given exhibition space; the plastic offcuts spread across the white walls like an ink stain or some sort of awful, insidious mold. A state of kemmering felt held in place by entropy and other dark forces, summoning the ghosts of Eva Hesse and Steven Parrino.

The tunnel form was reprised at the other end of the room in a cluster of highly abstracted landscape paintings that lined the route to another part of the gallery. McMillian thus positioned the time-honored genre as literally “escapist”—proposing or actually constituting an exit from the difficulties of the here and now. It’s a good joke, even if—or perhaps because—the paintings themselves are virtually interchangeable. The lurid palette and expressionistic mode of Untitled Landscape #14 and Untitled Cloud #16 (all 2012) make them especially hard to look at as considered, individual works—if that was ever the point. The press release states that the artist’s work is meant to “interrogate class inequities within a modernist tradition,” so perhaps these images are best read as critical signifiers of a particular—comfortable, complacent, white—attitude or milieu.

The same press release also states that “Prospect Ave.” is rife with allusions to science fiction, though none were immediately apparent to this fanboy. Perhaps two sculptures, Couch, 2012, and Untitled, 2009, were derived from some obscure narrative in which earthling furniture becomes the target of an extraterrestrial infestation? In the former, a tan sofa becomes a sandwich with a gray cement filling, while in the latter, the seat of a chair is penetrated by a tall, glossy, black-painted cardboard tube. Ordinary postconsumer objects (repurposed, like the two cut-to-room-shape rolls of besmirched carpet affixed to the wall nearby, from the artist’s former residence) are thus subject to violent disturbance. It is a clash not only of forms but also of cultures, domestic normality warped by the actions of an unknown interloper.

Reveling in its unvarnished look and intimations of threat, “Prospect Ave.” had a distinctly confrontational aura. And while McMillian has often adopted a more overtly political stance—he’s made a project, for example, of reciting famous speeches—his selections here felt somehow appropriate to an America as conflicted as ever about what should happen next, and bracing itself for the possibility of regime change.

Michael Wilson