If art were only about the marketing of a commodity, then Hassan Hajjaj's My Rock Stars: Volume 2 at Gusford Gallery, his first American one-man show, would be a product placement consultant's dream. Even a sideways, unintentional glance into the gallery as you charge down Melrose stops you dead in your tracks. You see large photographs of men and women. These are Mr. Hajjaj's chums; upon them he has conferred the status of rock star. They are flamboyant; they are glamorous. He clothes them in garish costumes -- a culture clash of color and pattern. He sets them inside a narrow, equally garishly colored space. With their preening look at me faces and postures, they resemble exotic fish in a glammed-up aquarium. Curiosity piqued, you have to enter, because that's how product placement works: a desire for an experience, if not necessarily for a product, has been created.
The work is equally divided between opposing walls. You don't take in the exhibition as a whole; it's too visually noisy for that. Instead you examine it piece by piece, surface inch by surface inch. The installation reminds you of the hustle and bustle of a souk, an Arab marketplace: stalls emerge from the walls of passageways, to entice, to seduce. Mr. Hajjaj borders each piece with a series of recessed spaces in which he places food and other products from Moroccan markets. These frames contextualize the marketing theme; so do the figures' costumes (one of which is on display at the end of the gallery): Mr. Hajjaj makes them from post-consumer recycled materials.
What lifts the work from the glam and seduction of marketing to the significance of cultural commentary can be seen in our disorientation within each piece. Mr. Hajjaj obscures each figure/ground relationship. We're not sure where the floor begins and the wall ends. We don't have a clue what time, what day, what season it is. Like the interior of a Las Vegas or a Macau casino, the atmosphere is rarified and stylized. All we have is contextless glam, the bacon's sizzle.
Mr. Hajjaj so perfectly suggests the netherworld of meritless celebrity that we don't stop for a moment to wonder whether these figures really do possess any particular talent that would qualify them as rock stars (in fact, they are fashion designers, capoeira masters, restaurateurs, dancers, and musicians.)
Whether or not they actually are rock stars is moot. Though they may not be attended to by entourages, coddled by adoring fans, and fawned over by an indulgent press corps, the point is, they look like rock stars. If you didn't know the sitters were his friends, you'd ask yourself, "Who is he, who is she?" You'd expect they were someone important because of their swagger, their attire, and their retinue. These pieces play off the dynamic of supposing someone is famous by their appearance but not knowing who the hell they are and what the hell they do. Just because popular culture is now deemed global doesn't mean that much of isn't judged on appearance and not merit.
Like the interior of a Las Vegas casino, the work is exquisitely appealing and delightfully contextless; it exists in a space that is make-believe. It comments with humor and sophistication on the way that marketing informs, perhaps even creates, the existence of a global culture. That it does so in the first place is interesting and necessary. That it's done while using the very marketing techniques it seems to upbraid is downright brilliant.
The exhibition runs until February 22. Gallery hours are 11am - 6pm, Tuesday through Saturday. The Gallery is located at 7016 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90038. For more information, call (323) 452-9563 or visit www.gusfordgallery.com.