Monday, February 19, 2007

Jason Middlebrook at Lisa Dent (SF)

Alert: This exhibition is scheduled to close on 2/24/07.

Jason Middlebrook’s solo exhibition at Lisa Dent Gallery is a combination of sculpture, drawing, and installation. I saw it a month ago and was able to have a brief conversation with the artist, who lives in upstate New York. It’s a very crisp show and beautifully installed. But I came away feeling that I didn’t understand what Middlebrook was up to.

He applied the techniques of hobby mosaics to automobile and truck parts, all taken from types of vehicles he has owned. The results was like something you might see in an eccentric roadside attraction in the country. These fetishized objects were scattered around the main gallery terrain, where a few sprigs of silk flowers rose through cracks in the floor. In the second room, darkened for the occasion, an image of Los Angeles had been painted and collaged onto the walls—the city's night-time expanse of lights. In that space, many flowers popped up, like weeds trying to become a garden. All of this captured the eye. (Well, not the drawings so much.) But what did it mean?

Well, the flowers might be read as the stubborn resistance of nature, or the human spirit, against the crush of urbanization. The mosaics might signal the inevitable obsolescence of America's attitude toward the automobile. But these ideas and others didn't seem to unroll very far. The show resisted my effort to probe beneath its seemingly limpid surface. So, this is perhaps a show that needs to be left alone, registered with the eyes and converted to memory without any intervening analysis (the way children see).

In this spirit, I offer several photos. The one at the top shows one area of the darkened room. Below are Middlebrook's sculptures based on a muffler with pipe, a Ford truck grille, and a wheel with a whitewall tire.

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