Richard Jackson at OCMA Yields Satisfaction
Curated with clarity and vision by Orange County Museum of Art (OCMA) director Dennis Szakacs, "Richard Jackson: Ain't Painting a Pain" is the first retrospective of the artist's long, anarchic career, and this is its only stop in the United States before traveling to Europe. Brilliant in myriad ways—as the historical documentation of an underground artist, as an intellectual experience, as a third finger to convention, and in its refreshing distain for disciplinary boundaries—it's the best art exhibition of the year. Sure, it's only February, but any show for the rest of 2013 that wants to compete has giant-sized clown shoes to fill. If you've never heard of Jackson before visiting the show, you won't forget him after seeing it.
The irreverence begins in the parking lot with the hilarious Bad Dog, an approximately 28-foot-tall sculpture of a puppy lifting its leg and leaving an impressive, bright-yellow spray of paint dripping down the museum's façade; it's already drawing bemused primetime-newscast reports. There's even more just inside the lobby, as you pass an unboxed crate that's part of an OCMA contest: the most cleverly written, original review of the show submitted by visitors wins them the chance to open the crate and activate the packaged paint machine inside the museum—with Jackson assisting! With 11 installations (and more than 150 preparatory drawings) providing a compact introduction to the artist and his obsessions, the exhibition revels in Jackson's working-class demystification of the painting process by not hiding from the labor-intensive work behind it. Paint drips and spills are left on the museum's floor, as are buckets of dried color and used whitewash brushes haphazardly thrown into corners.
At the entrance to the gallery, Jackson takes the piss out of Degas' precious Little Dancer, Age 14 with his ruthless trio of victimized dancers, Ballerina. People often fawn over Degas' bronze statue, but the reality of the lives of Paris Opera dancers was fairly bleak, less about art than prostituting themselves to male patrons. Jackson de-prettifies things: his dancers are upended, their legs in the air, heads crushed, flimsy tutus clumped above their waists. Paint poured into the statue through the base flows out from the crushed head into viscous pools that bleed over the pedestal and onto the floor. Using three different colors for the trio, the first one on display is particularly striking since the red paint used makes her look as though she has suffered a head injury.
Picasso's The Blue Room, his painting of a girlfriend bathing, is treated more affectionately than Degas' dancers, with Jackson's installation of the same name featuring a nude and a primary-color room—but the similarities end there. The stark room in Jackson's eye-popping Blue Room is stripped of all the things that make Picasso's room a home, as Jackson's woman is watched and admired by no one. She's pensive, alone, melancholy, pondering life's mysteries like the jigsaw puzzle of Picasso's nude that provides the floor of the room. Meanwhile, peer through the cracked windowsill in 2006-2007's The Maid's Room, and the spread-eagle, shaved beaver on view through the gap is instantly recognizable from Duchamp's notorious Etant donnés installation. Minus the wild nature surroundings of the original, Jackson has her sprawled on a bed in a gaily colored room, holding the grip of a vacuum cleaner splattered with red, gray bars of Ivory Soap replacing Duchamp's brick wall. The image has a ludicrous "fuck your laundry; I'm lounging around naked" eroticism to it, especially if taken in context with the paint-spattered washing machine and pile of half-folded, sloppily painted garments on the table nearby, but the tone of 2009's The Laundry Room (Death of Marat) changes rather abruptly when you take a few steps more. Featuring a three-dimensional, whorehouse-red sculpture of the famous David painting, updated with a laptop and email from Charlotte Corday, it's not that difficult to envision a narrative connection between the two pieces: a revenge fantasy straight out of playwright Jean Genet's The Maids.
It's 1000 Clocks, the least obviously painted installation, that has the most dramatic impact. As you enter a room through a bank of fluorescent office lights, your mind is wiped clear. Inside, the room is filled with 1,000 identical, working clocks covering the ceiling and walls, each painted by hand. For the 70-something Jackson, in a continuous battle to challenge himself as well as the art form he clearly loves, standing in this labor-intensive room watching a thousand minute hands simultaneously, audibly click every 60 seconds must have a personal significance, but it's no less relevant to us. Despite the neon hallway at the exit, lying in wait to wipe your thoughts as though a fluorescent Neuralyzer, the indelible image of time passing won't leave you either. Instead, as with much of this unforgettable exhibition, it punches you in the chest.
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