Born 1965 in Newcastle, California; died 2006 in Los Angeles, California
Jason Rhoades’s belief in the relentless revision of form and the continuity of ideas is epitomized by his series of exhibitions collectively known as the Black Pussy project. His often interactive, sculptural installations require viewers to navigate through and around vast collections of objects configured in disorienting mazes or solid masses. While at first glance the large-scale works can appear arbitrarily installed, the texts, photographic albums, and material lists often included in the installations as documentation of his voracious artmaking processes reveal a precise methodology and, albeit quirky, logic. Visually oversaturated with bright, psychedelic color, his decadent, often sexualized, displays challenge definitions of vulgarity, at the same time confronting the excesses of contemporary consumer culture. Rhoades’s constructions are activated by the invented histories dictated by the artist, though his works are also subject to chance inherent in the unpredictable behavior of participant-viewers.
The Black Pussy . . . and the Pagan Idol Workshop (2005) at London’s Hauser & Wirth, and Black Pussy (2006), first at Rhoades’s Los Angeles studio and then New York’s David Zwirner, constitute the closing chapter in a trilogy of work featuring, among myriad objects, neon “pussy word” signs, as part of the artist’s ongoing creation of a cross-cultural compendium of synonyms for female genitalia. The first work in the series, Meccatuna (2003) at David Zwirner, thematically introduced Rhoades’s baroque investigation into the history of Islam as a mode of questioning ideas of idolatry within a materialist, celebrity-obsessed American culture. In lieu of his original plan to send a live tuna on a pilgrimage to Mecca, Rhoades presented canned tuna with documentation of its presence in the holy city alongside a scaled Lego replica of the Ka’bah, fiberglass donkeys, two hundred neon pussy word signs, and his self-manufactured building material, PeaRoeFoam. This substance, made of light green dried peas, “virgin” Styrofoam beads, and bright red salmon eggs bonded in white adhesive, was packaged in replicated 1970s Ivory Snow soapboxes bearing an advertising image of the then soon-to-be porn star Marilyn Chambers, giving the invented material a feminine connotation at once maternal and sexualized.
Rhoades’s orgiastic, elaborately interwoven exhibitions obscure any clear artist intention by overloading the viewer with information and multivalent imagery. Simultaneously, the sheer volume of objects displayed creates repetition through overlapped metaphors and constructs an abstract statement grander than one installation could achieve. These works purposely avoid finite conclusions, instead offering circuitous maps of the artist’s probing preoccupation with faith, sexuality, consumerism, the creative process, the conditions under which art is possible, and the role of the artist in transgressing all boundaries. Rhoades’s installations serve as frenetic, oblique, yet fiercely eloquent visual evidence of his thoughts. TRINIE DALTON
Jason Rhoades, The Grand Machine/THEAREOLA, 2002 (installation view, MUMOK/Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien, Vienna, 2002). Mixed media, dimensions variable. Private collection; courtesy Estate of Jason Rhoades, Galerie Hauser & Wirth, London and Zurich, and David Zwirner, New York.