To say I was unprepared for Darren Bader’s installation at Blum & Poe is an understatement. I had read the coy, poetic/philosophical press release and was looking too closely at the unusual checklist to notice a low-hanging warning sign.
And then I was in the gallery, looking at a woman, standing quietly against the wall, fully clothed except for one breast, over which she held a large, black camera. This presumably was the piece titled “breast with/and camera.” I was stunned.
I was also uncomfortable, a rare feeling in a gallery, even amid the most confrontational art. In shows by the likes of Marina Abramovic or Tino Sehgal, one expects to see live bodies, perhaps even nude ones. But those are performances. Bader’s people — four in all — function instead as sculpture, not unlike the creepy, silver-painted living statues on Hollywood Boulevard.
A body or, more accurately in this case, a body part, is just another object: an idea both unsettling and brutally insightful.
The show, “Heaven and Earth,” is organized in pairs, and the single large gallery is littered with unexpected couplings. “Concert harp and/with airplane tray table” is exactly what it sounds like: a full-size harp standing next to a slab of gray plastic that is decidedly not in the upright and locked position.
There is also the brightly decorated “rickshaw and/with Russian doll” and the more despairing “rope with/and Don Quixote” (the book). I nearly stepped on “patella with/and theater tickets,” the rock-like kneecap serving as a kind of paperweight.
This bone is the rare body part not attached to a living person. “Penis and/with zombie movie” consists of a man standing before a movie playing on a monitor with the aforementioned organ hanging out of his pants. Across the room is a woman lying on the floor with her skirt hiked up, holding a copy of a play by Zach Braff between her legs. There are two titles on the exhibition checklist that might apply to this scenario: "clitoris w/and play," or "anus and/with greyness" (the gallery floor is gray).
Suddenly, looking at an air conditioning unit felt as rude as looking at someone’s crotch. Or perhaps I was studying the air conditioner to avoid looking at someone’s crotch. At any rate, I can’t recall a show that made me self-conscious in quite such an aggressive way. There was one other visitor at the time, and I found myself wondering if he might be part of the installation too.
Read generously, the show is a commentary on our objectification of bodies. More cynically, it is simply another example of the same. But could it be both of those things, and/with something more wondrous?
There is admittedly a certain sexiness suggested by all the indiscriminate couplings. They call into question routine pairings (like heaven and earth) and fuse new, weird connections between seemingly disparate things.
In fact, the show exists almost as effectively (if less shockingly) on paper, as a string of phrases connected by a continual flow of ands and withs. If art is typically defined by discrimination — this is art, but that is not — Bader’s installation is instead a grand gesture of inclusion.
Blum & Poe, 2727 S. La Cienega Blvd., (310) 836-2062, through Aug. 31. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.blumandpoe.com
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