Art review: Rodney McMillian at Susanne Vielmetter’s Los Angeles Projects

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Rodney McMillian inaugurates Susanne Vielmetter‘s expansive new Culver City space with a dismal show, scattered and slight. The sculptures and video feel like diluted outtakes from the artist’s ongoing, resonant meditation on American history, race, power and the body.

Roughly 100 potted succulents, cactuses and ferns fill the floor of the large main gallery. The plants, some in bloom, some browning, are spread out enough so that visitors can walk among them, and around the 15-foot-tall columns McMillian has also placed in the room. Sheathed in glossy black latex paint, the columns at first appear functional, but since they stop a few feet short of the ceiling, they simply loom, gratuitously. The beauty and variety of the plants are gratifying in themselves, but their assemblage in the gallery – at once precious and casual – feels like a conceptually lazy gesture.


Across one long wall, McMillian has splayed a giant cape-like piece, hand-sewn in black vinyl with heavy white thread. The white seams radiate from a puckered center that, according to the news release, the artist intended to be read as a sphincter, ‘an orifice that mediates consumption and waste and acts as a liminal space between inside and outside.’ This is the kind of intellectually inflationary art speak that, deservedly, elicits both despair and ridicule.

Another vinyl patchwork piece, this one with black scar-like seams, covers walls, floor and ceiling of another gallery, forming a flexible, dark, room-within-a-room, a mildly interesting, Postminimalist throwback. The L.A.-based McMillian also shows a video of a pair of hands, illuminated in otherwise total darkness, gesticulating, clapping, clenching and pumping, as if conducting music. This work too, feels only partially realized, a sketch in need of fleshing out.

– Leah Ollman

Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, 6006 Washington Blvd., Culver City, (310) 837-2117, through March 6. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

Robert Wedemeyer.