Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Rodney McMillian

My review of "Momentum 14: Rodney McMillian" at Boston's ICA:
At first, "Momentum 14: Rodney McMillian," which has been organized by curator Nicholas Baume, struck me as your usual nihilist non sequitur masturbation. McMillian's installation "Sentimental Disappointment" fills one wall with a sketchy black painting of his Los Angeles house. Furniture from his home sits around the gallery: a chair with an eight-foot-tall black column driven through its seat, a refrigerator with a hole punched through the door, a dinged-up kitchen table and chairs with a television on top.

It seems random, except that the television plays a 25-minute video of the artist stabbing a mattress repeatedly with a large kitchen knife — like something out of Psycho— and then ripping it apart with his hands. It's performance art, so McMillian performs it like a chore, but his act makes all the art here feel like domestic violence. A video playing outside the gallery of McMillian dancing desultorily to Porgy and Bess could point to frustrations of race (the artist is African-American) and poverty. Or not. I feel myself straining to find meaning in these forlorn objects. How much should we give artists the benefit of the doubt?
“Momentum 14: Rodney McMillian,” Institute of Contemporary Art, 100 Northern Blvd., Boston, July 29 to Nov. 1, 2009.

Pictured from top to bottom: Rodney McMillian, "Sentimental Disappointment," 2009. View of "Untitled (futon)," 2009, video, with "Untitled (kitchen table and chairs)," 2009, wood, plastic and metal, and "Untitled (4443 Prospect Ave.)," 2009, acrylic and latex on canvas. View of "Untitled," 2009, chair, cardboard tube and latex paint, and "Untitled (4443 Prospect Ave.)," 2009. View of "Untitled (refrigerator)" (detail), 2009. All courtesy of the artist and Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects. Photos by John Kennard.


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