In “Breakdown,” at the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, four artists in their 30s confront certain structures and systems currently prevailing in our culture and dismantle them. At least, that’s what the rhetoric surrounding this exhibition vaguely suggests.
All four--Michael Joaquin Grey and Rita McBride of New York, Robert Levine and Jorge Pardo of Los Angeles--appear to have a love/hate relationship with material culture and have decided to redefine it on their own terms. Grey starts at the beginning, recasting the big-bang theory into a mildly amusing, self-indulgent series of doodles and sculptures. He has a playful spirit, but his works, such as a trio of tetherball posts or a circle of tiny plastic stools, fail to transform into anything beyond what they so obviously are.
McBride takes the familiar route of rendering common, recognizable objects in unlikely materials. Her small bronze version of a parking structure has surprising elegance. The rest of her work, including orange plastic and green velvet cloverleaves, as well as a full-scale sports car fashioned out of rattan, is too superficial even to be redeemed by its distant kinship to Surrealism.
Levine’s sculptures in wood, plexiglass, metal and silicone have a clunky, self-conscious charm. His is a handmade order imposed on materials more precise than their maker. His “Half Knot Painting” is the sleeper of the show, a witty, punning mosaic of wood scraps, half with knots and half without. Understated and crudely coated with resin, it rips through the posturing of the work surrounding it to make a fresh and clever statement about painting’s proudly confused identity.
Pardo makes little of his contribution to the show, a set of track lights installed in the same configuration as those in his L.A. gallery. If not for the way they cut across the museum’s skylights, they would be entirely unworthy of notice. In her catalogue essay, the show’s organizer, assistant curator Kathryn Kanjo, allows Pardo to rub shoulders with light and space artists Robert Irwin and Dan Flavin, but Pardo’s work never rises above Home Depot.
Despite having broken down the component parts of certain spaces, objects and beliefs, the four artists in this show fail to pick up the pieces and make something meaningful of them again. All have solid schooling in Minimalist aesthetics and Conceptual issues, but the work remains flimsy. The real “Breakdown” here is in the museum’s curatorial rigor.
* Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, Downtown, 1001 Kettner Blvd., through June 23, (619) 454-3541.