Redling Fine Art / Los Angeles
JJ PEET’s first solo exhibition in Los Angeles is a well-installed show that offers a beguiling look at the New York-based artist’s practice. Three sculptural works from the “Floating Heads” series (2012-13) are sparingly placed in the darkened main gallery, accompanied by a stop-animation video Psych_UP Animation (2006-ongoing) projected against one wall. All of these pieces are assemblage works, making intricate and involved use of both found and made objects. The sculptures hang from the ceiling—inverted, dystopic versions of classic sculptures that sit on pedestals on the floor—while the lively animation spools through an endless parade of random objects moving to and fro. All the works have a dark, steampunk aesthetic and are well composed, intriguing in their odd juxtapositions of things like burnished steel columns, clunky ceramic doughnuts, discarded coffee cups, buttons, a brown paper bag, work gloves, a petrified lime, and so on.
There are of course narratives and historical frameworks that accompany PEET’s production. For example, the animations are never-finished, never-ending compendiums of all the footage ever taken by him, and the sculptures are conceived of as idea clusters or personalities, with each one having a designated “brain” component. In addition to commenting on the history of sculpture, the assemblages also comment on the history of ceramics—PEET is a master ceramicist, and he usually includes perfect porcelain pieces in the sculptures, which as he points out, will last longer than any of the other components, including the mild steel bases.
It might be most illuminating, however, to consider PEET’s work through the historical lens of assemblage. Looking at the “old masters” of the genre—postwar mavericks like Bruce Conner, Joseph Cornell and George Herms—we see a rugged individualism at work, with the artists struggling to wrest meaning and magic out of the debris of modern life; there is a concentrated heaviness to these works that lasts to this day. In contrast, younger artists of the current boom in assemblage works—as seen in such recent LA shows as “Voluntary Sculptures” at LM Projects featuring David Gilbert, Charlott Markus, Ian Pedigo and Kathrin Sonntag, and “Weird Walks Into a Room (Comma)” by Lisa Williamson and Sarah Conaway at The Box—make much lighter use of the overwhelming plenitude of disposable objects, both found and made, that crowd our postmodern existence. This generation seems to simply accept the fact that we live in a vast, incomprehensible world of random things that may or may not carry degrees of fluctuating meaning; they freely construct floating, open-ended worlds out of these items.
While PEET’s work is charming and smart and certainly well executed, it also seems to exist in a closed loop of its own making. His practice feels like a busy factory dedicated to making approved contemporary art. There are good references and conclusions here, but ironically, there are no messy ends. Thus, while we may be delighted on a formal and aesthetic level, we are ultimately left craving a way forward and a reason to stay intrigued over the long haul.