Riding the Rhoades Coaster
Jason Rhoades at Hauser Wirth & Schimmel
Arriving at Hauser Wirth & Schimmel last Saturday night for Jason Rhoades’ retrospective wasn’t much different from arriving to an amusement park. Experiencing his six immersive installations was like finally getting to enjoy the rides at the park. There’s a bunch of stuff you gotta do first—whether you like it or not.
First off, there’s the parking. The streets of DTLA in the Arts District were jam-packed with Ubers, Lyfts and gallerygoers in their own cars teeming with anticipation. Jaywalkers abound, some forming groups reminiscent of a class fieldtrip to Disneyland.
Once we finally made it into the park, er—the courtyard of HWS—lines formed everywhere. So many that it was hard to tell where they led. Lines for booze, lines for the bathroom, lines for the south side of the gallery, the north, for food, and who knows what else they were lined up for!
We danced our way in and out of each room in awe. Rhoades’ installations create an overwhelming sensory experience for the viewer, where one can choose to fixate on whatever excites them the most, whether it be dreamcatchers bought solely on eBay or pornography-wrapped logs of wood. (Smoke o-rings blown out of a massive cannon were a Snapchat hit).
The mass culture and consumerism themes in Rhoades’ art are perhaps more relevant now than when he created the works. Perusing his immersive, My Madinah. In pursuit of my ermitage (2004) installation, I couldn’t help but notice how the space choreographed its viewers in a remarkably similar way as Random International’s Rain Room does. The installation, part-mosque part-temple, was a sanctuary carpeted in towels and clouded by 240 neon “pussy words”—slang terms for female genitalia hanging from the ceiling. Rhoades created a seemingly sacred space, but viewers’ participation was anything but.
People around the perimeter of the gallery snapped photos, sent texts, or walked through totally transfixed by what new pussy-word they could find for social media, knocking over ceramic pieces of the installation on the floor while they meandered. But why? Was this art a commentary on the way we interact with sacred spaces? Or just a spectacle for the enjoyment of the viewer?
If you bothered to read the exhibition catalog, it stated we were invited to take our shoes off and lie down on the toweled floor to take in the radiating light, but as soon as we touched down, the invitation was revoked. A gallery guide asked us to get off the floor, and had no clear response as to why. Thirteen years have passed since the late Rhoades first exhibited this work, and I can’t help but wonder what he would’ve thought of the way it was received on Saturday. It makes me think—how do we choose to interact with the world? Is Jason Rhoades’ work for our enjoyment, for fun, like the adrenaline we get from a roller coaster? Or is it here to make us rethink our changing political and economic climate, how we consume, how we connect, and to challenge our understanding of what art is? Maybe both?