Subverting the Male Glaze: Rob Pruitt’s Pattern and Degradation

Rob Pruitt, tbc, 2010 (detail)

Taking up both Gavin Brown’s Enterprise and Maccarone, much of Pattern and Degradation is based on the Amish tradition of Rumspringa, the time when Amish teenagers get to go nuts for a year before deciding whether or not to commit to the whole Amish thing. Admittedly, the Amish are an easy target—they’ll never get through the Holland Tunnel in a horse and buggy to see the show in person, which pretty much leaves things wide open for Pruitt. Hitting closer to home, the show also takes on the tribal nature and herd-like behavior of today’s art world, which at times can seem just as insular as Amish tradition does.

Cementing his reputation as the art world’s premier events planner, Pruitt riffs on three familiar art world occasions: the opening, the auction, and the museum. In one gallery, you can mingle around what he calls “People Feeders,” stacks of tires that serve as lowbrow snack bowls for Oreo’s, (perfectly fresh on both visits I made to the gallery, btw), pretzels, gumballs, and black and white M & M’s. In heavier hands, the tires would have been pain-staking reproductions à la Robert Gober, or machismo car culture symbols à la Richard Prince. Pruitt, however, is much less sentimental than either of those guys. White paint, brushed on the tires Basquiat-style, is refreshingly unfussy. Plus, the snacks made me happy.

The next room loosely resembles an auction house. Dozens of chairs covered with metallic tape face a series of self-portraits, each showing the artist sensorially hindered in some manner—food in his mouth, googly eyes over his real ones, etc…signaling that the works should be experienced viscerally. The shiny chairs faintly echo Warhol’s silver factory and serve as a reminder that Pop Art’s mantra of “liking things” is at a premium here. Conceptual connections can be made to body art or the subjugation of the artist to the market, but over-thinking it seems beside the point.

In the next gallery, Pruitt has installed metallic tape-covered benches and geometric Amish quilt paintings in a museum-style setting. A comment on the enduring and mysterious perseverance of geometry in art, this is not a sarcastic send-up of institutions. Instead, humdrum art-going experiences are made more visually appealing by way of Pruitt’s lively aesthetic.

Questions of taste and quality intermix in this show perfectly. A group of six-legged cardboard box sculptures in Maccarone seem to be marching zombie-like into a giant grid of cinnamon bun paintings. The buns are glazed in a way that hilariously evokes Sol Le Witt, except without Conceptualism’s need for mathematical justification.

Although Pruitt has a penchant for self-mythologizing, this is Dude Art of the lightest kind. While seemingly about getting wild, this show doesn’t glamorize party detritus or bad boy behavior. Where many male artists valorize their fetishes through irony, Pruitt is actually funny. Much like the current trend toward restaurant-quality stoner food that celebrates flavor over pretense, the bar room humor of Pruitt’s work is so rooted in visual satisfaction that it passes as the new high brow.

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