Jason Rhoades -
"The sex of art is narrative"
by Josefina Ayerza

Josefina Ayerza - JRhoades Black Pussy.300 copy

( First published in Le Nouvel Âne, September 2008 – nº 9 )

Incarnated in the character of the sculptor Jason Rhodes, the controversial American NEO pop is in the spotlight, thanks to his colorful installations.

Jerry Saltz quotes Robert Rauschenberg “the sex of art is a narrative.” From this perspective, he explains that Rhoades who suddenly died at the age of 41, overloaded his testosterone-swollen environments with sprawling sculptures. His environments contained so much narrative that they turned into an ‘entry-free’ version of the 120 Sodom Days of the Marquis de Sade. Storytelling orgies – a brothel in Las Vegas mixed with a Wal-Mart super store and Kurt Schwitters’ Merzbau, housed in an unfinished house filled with absurd and bizarre interiors. “Rhoades has loaded his tri-dimensional feasts with that, excess, abjectness, outlaw ambition, and a devastating life force.”

The sequence – that of Saltz’s – asks for a break. Because Saltz writes one of the most exciting associations of ideas in the New York art community. His words ask a question about the structure, where the structure is a speech the case is hysteria.

Lacan declares in 1976, “… a discourse is formed which expressly aims at the universe, and aims to make it discursive … At the beginning of this first step of science as wisdom, the universe appears as a universe of discourse. In fact, there will never be a universe but discourse. (Transference, Seminar VI).

It’s not that there is only one universe, but rather that there is one. Let’s start counting. Begin by giving him a number, making it null – a nothingness. This nothingness needs to be outside this universe – empty, it becomes a container in which we insert the said universe. According to Lacan, the creation of a nothingness does not suppose a container, but rather a ring. In fact, if the world is a ring, the nothingness that is at its center is inside as much as outside.

Let’s try a first proposition in which we argue that the art of Rhoades was created according to the principle by which everything is touched. Merleau-Ponty called the principle by which everything touches all the rest the “flesh of the world” and he went on to say that the field of the visual is cut off from this flesh .. The idea is a mass; if everything is linked, you must introduce a cut in order to delimit a field, where different positions are defined. Otherwise touching and being touched are identical.

No break, not yet. Rhodes chose to take the road, carrying “the flesh of his coded universe” through various places. “It’s a snowball, it’s creating your own mythology and story, and then at some point, it stops. The result is there, the sculpture is completed.”

Jack Bankowski recounts … in 1998 the impenetrable “that” was an Impala, the car / sculpture that the artist had filled with cheese and Chanel Nº 22, crossed Europe, and was finally parked in front of the Kunshtalle in Zurich, where she remained stationed throughout the month of June, the busiest month of the art season, Rhoades will no doubt have spoken of many of his sculptures, if not his best and latest sculpture: installation -dinner that he rode in a warehouse in Los Angeles in a series of episodes, and that he named the title delusional, toxic and very Rhoadésian “Soirée Black Mold Cabaret Macramé”/ “Black Pussy Evening Cabaret Macramé”.

During the evening, the guests gathered in an antechamber, where they were offered a drink-fountain at the well-stocked and somewhat improvised bar. On the menu, white virgins and mascots of black mussels! He had concocted his own juices for the famous Spukaki wax, with a few drops of official perfumes from the Paris Hilton and Britney Spears. Spukaki is the glue that holds BP together, the magic substance that binds everyone to Britney and Paris. Guests were regularly encouraged to work on the Spukaki Machine, a mechanical phallus / gun-a-glue that had the potential to squirt up to thirty feet, and which had the ability to create a candle by throwing jets of cum symbolic in ceramic “donkey carts”, then frozen for the duration of the evening, and offered as a souvenir to take to the guests.

“Man Viril” / “Macho Man” is the cut element. In 1999, the prefabricated suburban detritus of Rhoades became assimilated with his hand-carved sculptures, and became monster machines that emitted endless hints of bizarre Americana and machismo. Then again, the metal center of Rhoades’ divergent information rings are also mobile; a hot tub becomes a fountain of life, a huge car engine becomes a phallus, then a drill moves. These hybrid crafts invite viewers to assemble their own, from scraps of sex, tips from gearboxes, and pieces of furniture created by Rhoades, to make a rodeo drive through the curves and multiple contours of his universe saturated by gadgets.

With Lily Well. Exploring the masculine identity is at the heart of Rhoades’ project, which is to build a plant assembly line called “The Theater in My Cock” / “The Theater in My Dick”, or to build a giant drill from the V-8 engine of a Chevy. Here, it undermines the field of man’s work – be it the mechanic’s repair shop, or the handyman’s garage – where the clichés of virility are revisited with love and dissected with violence.

Everything goes in the mix. The cut fell by itself. How to conceive differently The Man Man and the Evening Black Mold Cabaret Macramé? Inside a tribute to the feminine mystery, the Man Man seems somewhat crazy, if it is only strangely cheerful. The teenager inside the American man, or “testosterone-swollen mindset” /“testosterone-enhanced mind set,” sings a scatological hymn dedicated to the woman, and to the organ that represents it. The reference points in “Mecca with Tuna” / “Meccatuna” went from a rhetoric of production to a metaphor of seduction. Here, the ethic of production was geared to sex and religion with a focus on the origin of the world, hypnotized by the magicians and the vertiginous collection of 550 euphemisms of the vagina – “The Tunnel of Love” / Tunnel of Love, “Tuna City” / Tunatown, “Pencil Sharpener” / Sacapuntas, “The Smelly Rose” / Stinky Pink, “The Triangle of Rough Cocks” / Bermda Triangle, etc … titles believed to have been found on the Internet, then transformed into incandescent neon lights.

Rhoades has created ten happenings in salon style:

The party is over, which means in the Rhodesian scheme that everything has become a sculpture, “We turned on the lights at the 10th happening. According to the desire of the artist, this evening concluded the series – the sculpture was officially finished. The fact that the last farewells were followed by the sudden death of Rhoades on August 1, 2006, gives a sense of shattering closure to the previous events, however, in truth, the life after the death of his feast had already been planned by the artist.”

On the occasion of the exhibition that took place in November / December 2007 in New York at the David Zwirner Gallery, we go through hundreds of neons embedded in plelexiglas, which display their multi-colored and vaguely misogynous inscriptions. Designed like sculptures, stacked on pallets, as well as ruled, the neons are like a permanent comment inscribed at the top of the walls, galloning the top of the gallery like a ring, while recalling the temptations of the malls and the boxes of strip tease – but also evoking the friezes in Arabic language that adorn the Islamic architecture.

The exhibition announcement, which was also printed on stickers placed on the surface of some objects and given as gifts, was a black and gold electric transformer tag, written in English and Arabic. The sticker served as a signal to the public by warning him of the ploy often used by Rhoades, in which he insouciantly, with more irony than arrogance, inserted American culture in other contexts.

Jason Rhoads’ show Tijuanatanjierchandelier opened at David Zwirner’s West 19th St. gallery, NYC in October of 2019. 

Translated from the French by Jorge Jauregui.