Los Angeles

View of “Postcommodity,” 2020. Both works: untitled, 2019.

View of “Postcommodity,” 2020. Both works: untitled, 2019.

Postcommodity

LAXART

For “Some Reach While Others Clap,” Postcommodity took LAX-ART’s structures, both physical and organizational, as its material. Near the entrance, two of the building’s load-bearing H beams had been painted (or, in the parlance of custom-car culture, “candied”) in glittering tones of interlocking shapes, one in teals and blues and the other in vibrant pinks and reds. To make this work, the collective (currently comprised of Cristóbal Martínez and Kade L. Twist) enlisted Edgar Hernandez, president of Starlite Rod & Kustom, an autobody shop in Los Angeles renowned in magazines such as the now-defunct Rod & Custom for its ornate and precise painting and bodywork.

Modest in scale, Postcommodity’s gesture was grand in commitment: The H beams’ transformation is meant to be permanent, outlasting the exhibition. Resting on the floor nearby were two pairs of long sculptural forms. Each was upholstered with tufted velvet toward both extremities and candied in the middle to coordinate with one of the columns. Although they resembled tricked-out versions of a truck’s bench-like front seat (albeit miniaturized and attenuated), these were actually halves of casings designed to cover the newly painted beams during future exhibitions. The final component of Poscommodity’s work was to initiate conversations between the institution’s leadership and elders of the Tongva nation (indigenous to what is now Los Angeles) during the run of the exhibition to decide how the beams should be stewarded into the future. It remains unclear why Tongva elders would have a stake in what happens to these columns in particular—beyond, perhaps, the fact that Postcommodity is offering a more creative and physical indigenous land acknowledgment. Why not have Hernandez or another Starlite representative at the table, too? Without an outline of the motivations behind this potential collaboration, viewers can only understand the artists’ decision to involve Tongva people as an invitation into the administrative logics of diversity, grant-funding, and institutional maintenance rather than as a larger critique. Perhaps all of this is precisely what will be hammered out in their meetings.

In choosing to candy the H beams specifically, Postcommodity layers histories of labor like so many coats of paint. Although it is primarily the hot-rod aesthetics of Starlite’s paint job that bring cultural and political meaning to this work by alluding to the histories of brown and black car clubs in Los Angeles, the choice to adorn the building’s structural supports also invites a reading attentive to the beams’ material and manufacturing histories. Still visible through the layers of luscious color are the soldered trademarks of Bethlehem Steel, a company founded (as Saucona Iron Company) in 1857 in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Second only to US Steel in Pittsburgh, Bethlehem was responsible for manufacturing the axle for the first Ferris wheel, at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, as well as the lion’s share of steel used by the US Navy. Importantly, many of the men working at Bethlehem during its first sixty years were immigrants: Hungarians, Slovakians, and Italians at first, and then—after the 1921 instatement of federal restrictions limiting the number of immigrants from southern and eastern Europe—Mexicans. Two decades later, in 1941, these sons from other lands led a massive strike against their exploitative employers. Their efforts set the stage for a larger wave of postwar labor struggles, to which the government responded, in 1947, with the Taft-Hartley Act, still in effect today, which limits the power of labor unions.

During the same period in Southern California, hot-rod and lowrider cultures were emergent, their dazzling aesthetic programs created through the chopping and painting of old cars. Lowriders in particular, with their origins in the Mexican enclaves of Los Angeles, were driven “low and slow” in consonance with street and neighborhood life. This performative car culture was not immune to legal injunction, and in 1957 California outlawed lowriders with targeted car regulations. In spite of such regulations, these cultures continue into the present, supporting a network of affinity groups and businesses, including Starlite. Exploitation and rebellion, community and concerted craftsmanship: Postcommodity has collapsed these usually separate histories of labor and leisure into an elegant and, one hopes, long-lasting installation.