Jason Rhoades lived in Los Angeles for most of his career, but during his lifetime he gained more popularity in Europe and New York than on the West Coast.
A new art exhibit honoring Rhoades opened this past weekend at the Hauser Wirth & Schimmel Los Angeles gallery. The installation, titled Jason Rhoades Installations 1994-2006, showcases major work that spans the artist’s career.
This is why the exhibit at Hauser Wirth & Schimmel is important: It is an overdue collection of some of his great works in the town that he called home.
Rhoades studied at the California College of Arts and Crafts, San Francisco Art Institute and Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture before receiving his masters of fine arts at UCLA. He died in 2006, but found critical acclaim as an artist during his lifetime. As seen in the show, his pieces often deal with provocative and bold themes like capitalism, sexuality and consumerism.
The industrial space was packed with art admirers from the L.A. area on opening night. Walking into the gallery of Rhoades’ work is a jaw-dropping experience, as he uses dazzling and mesmerizing elements in his work, such as bright neon signs.
Rarely do such pieces make effective use of gallery space and explicit statements. One of the major displays, “Tijuanatanjierchandelier,” had neon signs of Spanish and English slang words for female genitalia hanging above a collection of trinkets from Tijuana, Mexico and Tangier, Morocco. The mixture of cultural goods within the exhibit highlights the sometimes disrespectful aspects of consumerism that appropriates other cultures, and the neon signs appeared to criticize the glamorous nature of the commercialization of sex and the world in general.
Much of Rhoades’ artwork is made of a combination of everyday items. These objects were arranged in large-scale pieces; yet, all the pieces also contained intricate details when scrutinized up close. This is an especially interesting element of Rhoades’ work: He asks us to pay attention and be shocked by his grandiose exposure of our society, while simultaneously encouraging close inspection and detailed reflection.
“A decade after his death and in a moment of heightened political tension,” the gallery’s official description of the exhibit noted, “Jason Rhoades’s radical oeuvre is more relevant than ever. From religion, commerce, sex and racial and gender stereotypes, to the role of the artist himself, no subject was off-limits and taboo was embraced.”
Rhoades walks a fine line between his work — contributing to sensationalism rather than criticizing it — and received criticisms throughout his career. Nevertheless, this sensationalist criticism toward Rhoades has its validity; there were hundreds of people wrapped around the gallery, trying to get Instagram pictures of the glowing artwork.
The exhibit contains six pieces throughout the artist’s lifespan; they are arranged in the separate galleries of Hauser Wirth & Schimmel, which is a former grain mill-turned-art gallery in the Arts District. The Jason Rhoades installation is on display from Feb. 18 until May 21 and is free to the public.