Informal Illuminations: A Survey of Works by Jason Rhoades

May 7, 2013

Northern-California born artist Jason Rhoades died of an accidental drug overdose at the age of 41, a year short of his critically acclaimed show at the 52nd Venice Biennale in 2007.  A mere seven years before his death, the artist had exhibited at the 48th Venice Biennale with co-collaborator and friend, Paul McCarthy.

Rhoades had attended an impressive roster of schools including the California College of the Arts, the San Francisco Art Institute, Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, and UCLA (where he met McCarthy).  Under the mentorship of performance art and sculpture heavyweights Richard Jackson and Paul McCarthy, Rhoades had much to prove to the art world.

Like Jeff Koons and Bruce Nauman that came before him, Jason Rhoades was not afraid to use industrial, commercial, and pre-fabricated materials such as neon, fiberglass, projectors, and other common objects to produce audaciously imposing and grand-scale installations.

Gasp and Grunt, Farfalla (Lot 290) and Gallimaufry, County Down (Lot 291) from “Meccatuna” are loudly colored, neon words (slang terms for the female genitalia) mounted on Plexiglas panels with lace and string.  In the original “Meccatuna” installation, 227 neon signs were stacked on tables and hung from every wall.  These works seize the attention in any room they illuminate, by transforming into glowing iconographies denoting larger issues, all the while recalling Bruce Nauman’s neon installation pieces such as One Hundred Live and Die (1984).

Forcing the audience to contemplate phrases that suggest sexual discrimination and misogyny, these works induce the viewer to engage in a lurid and adrenalized way. “Meccatuna” is credited as the first part of the artist’s “Pussy Trilogy” (followed by the installations “My Madinah: In pursuit of my ermitage…”, 2004, and Black Pussy…and the Pagan Idol Workshop, 2005).  1724 Birth of the Cunt (Lot 289) was made in a small edition for the second-show in the series “My Madinah: In pursuit of my ermitage…”  This book is a meticulously compiled index of 1,724 synonyms for female genitalia executed in Braille-like embossed printing.

Rhoades is the subject of an upcoming fall exhibition “Jason Rhoades, Four Roads” at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia which will travel to the Orange County Museum of Art. It is the first American museum exhibition for Rhoades, with undoubtedly many more to come.

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