In his first solo exhibition in Asia at the Gagosian gallery in Hong Kong, Joel Morrison presents a reasonably entertaining series of recent works that challenges formalist sculpture while engaging in a constant critique of art historical directions. Drawing on readily-available objects utilised in daily life, Morrison’s composite sculptures begin as disparate Duchampian readymades: weather balloons, bullets, mannequin busts and shopping carts, just to list a few. Through a process that begins with casting, these found objects are moulded into forms that look oddly familiar and yet not, then cast in stainless steel, and finally subjected to intense polishing. Forced together, these objects don’t sit too well in their new skins, poking and swelling out of their casts with deliberate stubbornness, creating a rolling landscape on shiny surfaces. Consequently, the physical sum of the parts of these flimsy, ephemeral readymades is a permanent, unrecognisable blanketed structure intended to provoke and outrage. If traditional sculpture concentrates on the materialisation of an intangible idea in three-dimensional space, Morrison’s eccentric, amorphous surfaces seem to reverse the process, becoming figurative the moment his readymades take their final forms.
The polished and glitzy Untitled (2012) piece forged from meat tenderisers is part Greek sculpture, Medusa-myth and part punk-metal (pun not quite intended), exhibiting both the stateliness of Ancient Greek busts and the flamboyance of pop culture. If Greek busts were commissioned to commemorate the heroics of war, or to serve as propaganda, Morrison’s silver work is an amusingly brilliant commemoration of postmodern’s obsession with consumerist excess and pastiche. No less quirky and alluring are the ironic and arresting steel jaws of a crocodile-like predator used to represent the seductive male lover in Romeo (2010) and bulbous The Reaganomic Youth (2011) that features an overturned bottom half of a shopping cart supported by a fused number of round-ish protrusions.
By appropriating forms and ideas in the history of western sculpture, Morrison’s oeuvre recalls the naturalism of the classical era, the futurist emphasis on energy, movement and the dynamic flows in space, and the conceptual Duchampian readymade. Above all, his forms pay tribute to the works of other modernist sculptures, echoing the organic and abstracted shapes of Barbara Hepworth’s, or the deliberately disproportional, undulating and imperfect reclining forms of Henry Moore. In a playful homage to Frank Stella’s Getty Tomb (1959) for instance, Morrison’s large namesake resembles at first glance, a striped T-shirt made with a reflective surface. If Stella’s famed black, unmodulated series of canvas works were intended to contain no meaning other than existing painted objects, Morrison’s peculiarly shaped Tomb (2012) seems to revoke that formalist abstraction through its rippling drapes and stripes, implying a more complex relationship sculpture has to contemporary attitudes and responses.
Joel Morrison was born in Seattle, Washington in 1976. He received a BA in English Literature at Central Washington University, and an MFA in sculpture at the Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, CA. Morrison lives and works in Los Angeles. This exhibition will be on show at the Gagosian Hong Kong until 17 November 2012.