If you're in the area, don't miss the rare opportunity for a Richard Jackson retrospective exhibition at the Orange County Museum of Art. In fact, it's worth traveling a good long way to see. I'm surprised to be informed that it will travel (see schedule below) despite the fact that it's a huge, uncompromising installation, involving not only a full-scale Cessna aircraft and a massive structure that includes a Ford Pinto, doors open, on its side, but also a good deal of paint spattered on museum floors, ceilings and walls. Even the exterior is not spared: in a gesture whose meaning is inescapable, "Bad Dog," dwarfing the museum...
Bad Dog, 2013
... raises his leg to piss a stream of yellow paint against the facade. Ed Ruscha's famous "I Don't Want No Retro Spective" seems in comparison a mild protest against the art establishment that threatens him with its respect!
The iconoclastic Jackson has been sticking his thumb in the eye of art -- particularly the art of painting -- for four decades and more. His retrospective, "Ain't Painting a Pain", documents a long love affair with paint, and a dogged (excuse the pun) refusal to use it in the conventional ways. His work protracts the revolution begun by post- post-World War II artists like Jackson Pollock, Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, who sought to push the art beyond the application of paint on canvas with brush or palette knife, and find ways to make it work for them that would challenge past assumptions and produce something entirely new. Their success left an artist like Jackson little choice other than to take things further still; he pushed them cheerfully over the cliff.
Early experiments found Jackson challenging both paint and canvas, creating installations in which he slathered the medium on the surface of the canvas, then turned it around and smeared it on the gallery wall. The "wall painting" that resulted owed as much to chance as to the artist's skills, but the energy and the in-your-face originality were all his. The "take that" challenge to the art of painting was quite as funny as it was purposefully offensive -- an act that was followed shortly by the stacked canvases (as many as a thousand at a time) ...
Richard Jackson standing in front of "Bid Ideas," Rosamund Felsen Gallery, Los Angeles, 1980
... whose surfaces were hidden from view and whose colors were visible only in the paint that oozed from cracks between them. The gesture parodied what many practitioners of the art had been reduced to at the time, making multiple versions of the same painting in an endless cycle of self-repetition.
Featured in the retrospective is also a giant maze, into which the visitor is invited along narrow corridors, between walls of paint, to a central "room" where floor mops used to apply the color lie in abandoned puddles of paint. The ground itself is solid paint, encrusted with the footprints of the artist and his assistants as they slopped on paint and dragged it out along the walls, creating a single, live, outrageous "painting" that looms close on either side of you as you walk through. By contrast, this vast work is followed shortly by a gallery of "100 drawings," sketches of ideas for installations, some hilarious, and all graded in red pencil, "A" to "F-," by the artist, with teacherly comments scrawled in pencil below. One, a "critic's shoe" filled with paint, was awarded an "A" and two gold stars for its impudent assault on critics generally (and then Los Angeles Times critic William Wilson in particular.)
The single non-painterly installation was a discomforting disquisition on the nature of time and our experience of it -- a large room whose four walls and ceiling were constructed entirely out of identical electric clocks...
1000 Clocks, 1987-92
... all showing the same time, their black hands moving on inexorably in unison against the plain white faces and clicking simultaneously (and alarmingly!) with the passage of each minute. The return to the use of paint, in the next gallery, was almost comforting -- though here it was shot from paint guns set in the anal passages of fake deer, assembled in a large rotating central construction, and aimed at the walls that were hung with kitschy paintings and assemblages...
Deer Beer, 1998
The spatters reached a surprisingly long distance, through the door and into the next gallery, the "French Salon" and beyond.
The French Salon took several iconic French masterpieces to task -- David's portrayal of the assassination of Marat in his bathtub...
The Laundry Room (Death of Marat), 2009
... and Duchamp's nude sitting at a table, reading -- rendering them in large, three-dimensional installations in garish single colors, red and blue; Jackson's version of Seurat's "Grand Jatte," still in progress after, I believe, some 9,000 individual rifle shots, makes fun of the painter's dots by reproducing them with colored pellets, fired singly at the canvas from the gun which is exhibited alongside the massive canvas.
Such irreverence is at the heart of Jackson's work. I have not yet mentioned the "painting machines," invented to mechanically spray, spurt, or otherwise distribute paint indiscriminately around them. Such is the aforementioned Cessna, intended to be filled with paint and crashed into the side of a building -- an idea that 9/11 put beyond the pale of possibility, but executed in small scale in the current exhibition by a model plane flown in through the loading door and crashed into a gallery wall. The crashed remnants of the replica lie upside down on the floor beside its full-scale cousin. Or that Ford Pinto...
Painting with Two Balls, 1997
... whose wheels spin two giant balls placed above it in mock homage to an earlier Jasper Johns painting. Paint is released from above and bounces off in all directions to floor, walls, and ceiling -- and even one large canvas, propped up alongside, producing a surprisingly effective AE painting.
This work, I have to say, is sheer genius. It's fun, exuberant, irreverent, unconscionable. It knows no bounds, whether in intention or in scale. If it rubs you the wrong way, it also makes you laugh out loud. It's entertaining, thought-provoking, challenging to the imagination. Give that man a MacArthur genius grant. Unless they already did... (I checked. They didn't. Which is too bad.) At least, if it's humanly possible, don't miss this show.
If you do miss it in Californa, don't despair. You'll find it, "plane, Pinto and all (except for Bad Dog)" at the Museum Villa Stueck, in Munich, July 25 - October 13, 2013; or at S.M.A.K, Municipal Museum of Contemporary Art in Ghent, Belgium, February 28 0 June 29, 2014. Sorry about "Bad Dog." Still worth the trip!
All Images Courtesy of the Orange County Museum of Art
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