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Issue 217

At François Ghebaly Los Angeles, Nostalgia for Simple Design Becomes the Norm

Conceptual artist Patrick Jackson presents a series of photographs and glass shelves that riff on modernism and minimalism

BY Travis Diehl in Reviews , US Reviews | 17 NOV 20

The outline of each of Patrick Jackson’s small Shelving Units (all 2020) is a 28 cm cube. Within this, sandwiched between square sheets of glass – each layer supported by a set of acrylic cones – sit cheap, uniform goods: green, dice-shaped stress balls in Shelving Unit (Dice); a sextet of metal kitchen sifters in Shelving Unit (Sifters). Only in Shelving Unit (Plants), where the fake plastic leaves of potted vines flow off the plinth, do the objects exceed – almost scandalously – the work’s schema. The series riffs on modernism and minimalism, displaying the pristine, ‘untouched’ quality of objects pumped out by machines. Yet, the arrangements also seem precarious, provisional: coaxed into balance by human hands. There is nothing but the norms of the white cube preventing each sculpture from turning back into just so many parts.

Patrick Jackson, Shelving Unite (Dice), 2020, .Courtesy: the artist and François Ghebaly, Los Angeles
Patrick Jackson, Shelving Unite (Dice), 2020, glass, acrylic, foam dice, 28.5 x 28.5 x 28.5 cm. Courtesy: the artist and François Ghebaly, Los Angeles

Such fragile formalism is what passes for order and control in ‘My Dark Architect’, Jackson’s solo show at François Ghebaly. Here, the straight line grows in complexity relative to the planar, the parallel and the perpendicular in a way that imbues the sculptures with a kinetic threat. The four Shelving Units on their pedestals run down the centre of the first gallery, dividing it in half; the walls around them are symmetrically hung with a series of grainy black and white 35mm photographs (all 2017) in polished frames depicting, for the most part, public sculptures in an empty downtown LA. On the far wall, at the head of the sculptures’ axis, is Cone, which pictures a burnished steel cone plunged into the pavement of a street corner. Figure portrays a humanoid stack of rectangles guarding a locked gate, while Animal features one of Peter Shelton’s amputated, rippling bronze torsos that adorn the LAPD’s headquarters (sixbeaststwomonkeys, 2009). At the foot of the axis, these nods to avant classicism are complimented by a more intimate, yet equally barren, scene: a mound of clothing on a Bed. The absence of the body is pervasive. Indeed, the only figure in the show appears in Head on Table, an eerie but jokey self-portrait of the artist as a head on a platter – the illusion accomplished by a pair of mirrors.

Patrick Jackson, 'My Dark Architect', 2020, exhibition view. Courtesy the artist and François Ghebaly, Los Angeles
Patrick Jackson, 'My Dark Architect', 2020, exhibition view. Courtesy: the artist and François Ghebaly, Los Angeles

This modular, clipped logic expands in the second gallery. Here, five works (all Shelving Unit with 24 Supports, 2020) stand just under two metres tall. These iterations hold no objects, however, only glass sheets subdivided by smaller glass sheets and propped up, again, by vacuum-formed plastic mounds, aligned so that they resemble crystalline lozenges embedded in transparent planes. As if to offset the very real danger of so much glass, each unit is braced with used construction scaffolding. The dirty brackets and pipes give off the air of safety and subtly invite the viewer for a closer look. But this stability is also a concession: the scaffolding shores up the floating planes and serious ratios of modernism rather than allowing whatever might follow their collapse.

On the walls are bold-coloured silkscreen blow-ups on aluminium of pages from the final Sears mail-order catalogue, which was printed in 1993. The nostalgia here is not only for the catalogue itself – an analogue version of Amazon.com – but for the comforting possibilities for home improvement that it sold. Jackson’s prints reproduce reassuring arrays of wrenches and knives, wholesome selections of mirrors or cookware – things meant to be looked in, cooked with, used – but displaying the marked absence of the consumer’s human hand. Just as the Sears catalogue is a relic of the past, so too is its image of a manageable world. Jackson’s raw and affected sculptures represent the energy now required to maintain the appearance of even empty, tasteful shelves.

Patrick Jackson's 'My Dark Architect' at François Ghebaly, Los Angeles runs until 21 November 2020. 

Main image: Patrick Jackson, 'My Dark Architect', 2020, exhibition view. Courtesy: the artist and François Ghebaly, Los Angeles

Travis Diehl is online editor at X-TRA. He is a recipient of the Andy Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant and the Rabkin Prize in Visual Arts Journalism.