Using corn cobs as a stand-in for phalluses and baskets for vaginas might not be artistically novel, but a sprawling installation by Trulee Hall deftly employs them both. The larger dynamic exposed in her 55 often elaborate works might be described as American Grotesque.
Trouble lurks overhead in a mechanized mobile made of corn cobs dangling in the breeze next to frilly baskets suspended from storm clouds. Wild, low-down comedy is part of the mix at Maccarone Gallery, where Hall is having her solo debut.
The installation, “The Other and Otherwise,” is entered through a tunnel-like gilded doorway flanked by a pair of imposing columns made from giant corn cobs, while fountains in the shape of women’s breasts spurt water. We are entering a nominal amusement park, and it is defined by an array of heterosexual absurdities.
Hall grabs onto an artistic legacy most notably defined over the last 25 years by artists Paul McCarthy and the late Mike Kelley. The psychosexual madness of modern life informs this ambitious installation work.
Just past the gilded corn-and-breast doorway, a four-poster bed in a small room decorated with a zillion dancing polka-dots features a doll rotating on a spindle above the headboard. As the doll’s skirt flips back and forth, as if in a never-ending dream, the head of a comely lass pokes out, alternating with one of a fierce gorilla. Fay Wray and King Kong perform as modern Surrealist fantasies of hoary beauty and the beast.
Crude paintings dispersed throughout the show feature a variety of abstracted naked women in sinuous or jagged shapes rendered in bright, flat colors. They are bleak ancestors of formally brilliant, socially repugnant canvases by Picasso that show poor Marie-Thérèse Walter as a twisted object of sexual manipulation, or De Kooning’s paintings of ferocious women grinning with teeth bared. Empathy meets disgust.
Soon a banal visual joke gets cracked, as strutting chickens or a vision of Nevada’s Chicken Ranch brothel become obvious (and demeaning) stand-ins, inferring “chicks.” Videos display dancers dressed like sex dolls and morphing into tacky clay-animation, suitable for the kids.
Hall’s most inventive works might be several sculptures made of long, tubular snakes encrusted with decorative gravel. They coil around, over and on pedestals in a variety of shapes — a wedge, a mound, a chunky boulder and more.
Many of the pedestals stand atop spindly furniture legs, their lower edges trimmed in genteel lace or frilly ruffles. A plinth sporting a phallus recalls an ancient Greek or Roman herm, a marker placed at a crossing or a territory’s edge. A herm’s original apotropaic function as a statue to ward off evil is here colonized by traditional femininity — and now runs gleefully amok.
Maccarone Gallery, 300 S. Mission Road, L.A. Tuesdays-Saturdays, through March 2. (323) 406-2587, www.maccarone.net