RODNEY MCMILLIAN Prospect Ave.by Jen Schwarting
MACCARONE | SEPTEMBER 15 – OCTOBER 27, 2012
A supple sheathe of heavy, black vinyl covers the entrance to Rodney McMillian’s solo exhibition at Maccarone. Visitors step into a darkened cavity covered by a continuous patchwork of hand-sewn material framing the gallery’s front vestibule. Titled “a state of kemmering in the Council-era of corrosion” (2012) (where “kemmering” refers to a sexual stage in science fiction), McMillian constructed the work as a kind of portal designed to move the viewer beyond fixed notions of history and time. Still, the piece transported me back to a specific moment in 2008, when I saw McMillian’s standout effort in the Whitney Biennial—an untitled vinyl work filling an entire wall of the museum. A massive, fabric-wrapped frame bulged with trunk-like appendages, both soft and rousing. Intimating sex and race, the black protuberances stretched out along the gallery floor, suggesting something sensual, genital, and immensely vital.
If that untitled work was an exuberant spilling-out, McMillian’s newer work represents more of a knuckling-down. The Whitney piece was shown the spring before big banks collapsed and the housing market dissolved. With long term prosperity now in question, the loss of security, and its effects on the body and psyche, is the focus of McMillian’s current show. The exhibition, Prospect Ave., explores the boundaries of potency and potential, synchronously engaging and resisting a state of decline.
The show includes many works of found-object sculpture, site-specific installation, and video, but a singular, small, muted painting sets the overall tone. A monochrome oil painting on wood of a quarter, 25¢ (2012), shows the currency’s familiar portrait of George Washington in profile. Positioned at the bottom of the canvas on a predominantely black field, the coin meets the abyss, falling in value. Past and present collide as a manufactured representation of revolution and freedom, liberty and prosperity is eclipsed by the reality that a quarter, these days, is worth next to nothing.
Prospect Ave. is named for the Los Angeles street McMillian lived on for many years, and the exhibition incorporates material pulled directly from his home. Two “Carpet Paintings” (2012) are actual, old mottled burnt-orange carpet torn from the floor of his residence that still retain the geometric floor-plan passage from bedroom to office and are hung on the gallery wall. McMillian has exhibited a number of carpet paintings over the past decade, and while the textured material can look beautiful in reproduction, in person they are more evidently gross. Stained by spilled food, pet urine and ground dirt, they are persistant records of deterioration, and ballsy affronts to taste.
Further altering his personal property, McMillian occupies notions of hardship and calamity, as themes of downturn abound. Skimming the gallery floor is Untitled(2009), a ubiquitous, beige Ikea armchair penetrated by a black, latex-paint column, and Couch(2012) a sateen sofa broken in half and cemented back together. The destroyed furniture embodies distress and instability, easily referencing loss and the remnants of economic depression. But they are also defined by archetypes of body and home, and seem to take cues from strategies in feminist art—intersecting realms of the personal, sexual, and domestic.
At the far end of the gallery McMillian proposes an alternate paradigm. Untitled Landscape is a series of painted bed sheets and canvas tarps pinned together to create a new atmosphere. Veined and twisted lightning bolts painted in black, white, hot pink and orange form a highly charged, imaginary landscape. Like “a state of kemmering,” Untitled Landscape also surrounds a doorway, this time leading to a second outlet. Viewers can choose to exit through this bright electric field, or back through the blackened void from which they came.
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