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Issue 232

Richard Jackson’s Gleeful Machismo

At Hauser & Wirth, Zürich, a survey of the artist’s work from the past 30 years likens painting to shooting practice

BY Camila McHugh in EU Reviews , Exhibition Reviews | 19 OCT 22

Bursts of red, yellow, teal and pale blue oil paint splatter shy of targets emblazoned on four pieces of paper, while a fifth sheet, positioned at the centre of the others, remains unscathed. Richard Jackson’s Nice (1998), currently on view in his solo exhibition at Hauser & Wirth, Zürich, likens painting to shooting practice and positions his oeuvre as one that deliberately misses the mark. Prompted by declarations of painting’s demise during the 1960s heyday of minimalism and conceptualism in which he came of age, the Los Angeles-based artist has dedicated his career to developing and staging processes that expand the parameters of the medium. As such, shooting off-target becomes a mode of literally and metaphorically moving beyond prescribed boundaries. ‘Richard Jackson Works’ traces such word games and boisterously faulty marksmanship through the octogenarian’s career in two new large-scale installations, Shooting Gallery (2021) and 1000 Pictures (1980–2022) from his ‘Stacked Painting’ series (1980–ongoing), alongside a survey of neon works and their preparatory drawings from the past three decades.

Richard Jackson, Shooting Gallery, 2021. Courtesy: the artist and Hauser & Wirth © Richard Jackson; photograph: Stefan Altenburger Photography Zürich

In the neon Ain’t Painting a Pain (2008), for instance, each word (all of which are contained in ‘Painting’) is successively illuminated in blue. This somewhat truculent irreverence is a tone familiar from the coterie of artists – including Mike Kelly, Paul McCarthy, Bruce Nauman and Ed Ruscha – who Jackson counted as peers in late 20th century California. Though he has exhibited widely since the late 1990s, the aim of the show seemed to be, in part, to secure Jackson’s spot in this West Coast old boys’ club. Nauman was, for instance, Jackson’s roommate in his early years in Los Angeles and Jackson’s own excavation of a kind of wrongness – the tension in his work between craftsmanship and messiness – developed in parallel to those qualities characteristic of Nauman’s oeuvre. Take the Shooting Gallery, a funfair-style rifle range in garish yellow and red embellished with a clown face and Swiss and American flags, animated by a parade of metal animal moving targets, and riddled with marks left by multi-coloured paintballs that Jackson open-fired at the installation. Aligning the painterly gesture with a reckless and almost ejaculatory violence, the work’s relationship to its own unwieldy machismo became a key question that permeated the show. The problem of tone also arose in Jackson’s frequent allusion to male-dominated hunting culture in neons that blink phrases like deer beer dick duck (1999). These works teeter on a tightrope between cheeky, ironic and iconoclastic, while also sometimes slipping into uncritical bravado, as with Shooting Gallery’s brightly oil-splotched flags of two of the most heavily armed nations in the world. Yet, deeming sculptural forms and architectural interventions to be ‘painting’ by deploying the virility long associated with the medium hardly pushes the status quo.

Richard Jackson, ‘RICHARD JACKSON WORKS’, 2022, exhibition view. Courtesy: the artist and Hauser & Wirth © Richard Jackson; photograph: Stefan Altenburger Photography Zürich

Crucially, Jackson’s works are aftermaths. He engineers a procedure – whether the neons he designs and builds or the installations he constructs and activates – and the work is the evidence, the material consequence, of his process-based performance. This is particularly apparent in the pink, blue and yellow neon PROCESSPROGRESS (2022), in which these words encircle the bullseye of a neon target that is equipped with two nozzles that have erupted red paint onto the wall and ceiling, which then dribbled to pool on the floor beside a bucket, a paint stick and other tools doused in red. Drawing on the visual language of a crime scene, PROCESSPROGRESS carries the same scent of death that permeates both Shooting Gallery and the towering, mausoleum-like stacks of canvases in 1000 Pictures. Ultimately, the show comes together as an absurd and protracted eulogy for the machismo it nimbly employs – a gleeful RIP.

‘RICHARD JACKSON WORKS’ is on view at Hauser & Wirth, Zurich, until 23 December.

Main image: Richard Jackson, 5050 Stacked Paintings (detail), 1998, acrylic on canvas and wood, 5050 parts. Courtesy: the artist and Hauser and Wirth © Richard Jackson and Nationalgalerie Im Hamburger Bahnhof; photograph: Thomas Bruns

Camila McHugh is a writer and curator based in Berlin, Germany. She also co-organizes the fundraising platform Art for Black Lives.