Jet Set Saturdays: Justin Beal and Martin Kersels at ACME
Martin Kersels, Fat Iggy 3, 2008. Black and white C-print. 18 3/4 x 22 1/4 inches
In classical Greek adjectives for lovely include both “kallos” and “hora,” alluding to the qualities of pleasure and presence that great beauties possess. The ancient Greeks are famous for their philosophical fusing of the beauty with environment and the balancing act between being and timeliness. A ripe fruit, a sequence of numbers, the Iliad, the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, and a handsome youth all belong under the same notion of the aesthetic in the ancient Greek experience. Perhaps it’s the Athenian in me that finds Justin Beal so provocative. Beal’s show at ACME, HOT HOT HOUSE, makes a case for a contemporary hot house temple, breathtaking in both its concept and execution, truly the work of Los Angeles’ most esteemed Kouros boy.
Justin Beal, Untitled, 2010. Aluminum, Plexiglas, mirror, stretch wrap and enamel. 32 x 49 x 6 inches
Gallery says: “HOT HOT HOUSE, is a series of wall sculptures made of glass, aluminum, Plexiglas, plastic, cast stretch wrap and enamel. The series takes its name from coincident titling of Andrea Branzi’s book, The Hot House: Italian New Wave Design and the “hot house” greenhouses used in the commercial production of cucumbers. The body of work takes as a point of departure the notion that functionalist design is an inherently repressed form of object production and the postmodern experiment that is described in Branzi’s book offers a model for reconsidering such a history. The works in the show move within a gray area between design and sculpture in an attempt simultaneously address the sublimated desire of functionalism and recognize the transgressive potential of the design object in any context.”
Justin Beal, Hot Hot House, 2010. Powder coated steel, glass and nickel plated-plastic. 16 x 72 x 73 inches.
Beal has an uncanny ability to tie the functionalism of everyday life to a rubicon of self-reflection. Much as the Parthenon designed by the architect Kallikrates implies stability, protection and sacred geometry, Beal’s constructions elucidate his ethos, cutting through the temporality and narcissism of contemporary existence. The fragility of his materials (nickel plated cucumbers, tubing and enamel) expose both the inherent instability of all structures whether ancient, modern or alter modern and the resulting wavering of moral relativism. Unlike the rigid symmetry of the ancients, Beal’s mirrors open up rooms within rooms while their surface protuberances make fetishistic the otherwise antiseptic geometry of architectural form. These pieces are hot sex on a platter turning black plastic into a kind of vinyl meditation on the vanity of union itself as a projection of desire.
I live with a mirror closet wall. Kinky and functional, the doublewide mirrors are a late 80’s attempt to expand my California bungalow space. Living with a really big mirror in your bedroom is tacky and I should probably redesign and pick something in a smoky plastic or exotic wood. However, the full length mirror is a body prop I am tied up and tied down to, bound by the stimulation of self-simulation in an imaginary space that is all my own. I can imagine Beal lives in a similar fashion, stuck like Narcissus in a Plexiglas river of himself.
Martin Kersels, Untitled (Floor-Marker), 1997. Speaker, wire, microphone, amplifier, wood and aluminum. 96 x 72 inches diameter.
In the back gallery, Martin Kersels delights with a fairly typical grouping of photographs and a sound sculpture he calls Untitled (Floor-Marker). In keeping with his prior sound sculptures such as Brown Sound Kit this latest offering features a motorized arm that drags a microphone in a circle to scratchy white noise. The photographs depict Kersels dressed up and performing as an overweight Iggy Pop. Pathetic and self-effacing, they read as confessional and sad. In the image Fat Iggy 3 (title image), the artist is shown face down on the floor in a pair of handmade silver stretch pants. Both dramatic and defeatist the pose evokes a variety of emotions. Accented by his expansive back – wide and softly sensual in contrast to the absurdly tight pants – the image is as nervous as it is humorous. Echoing Untitled (Floor-Marker), he clings to a microphone, hopelessly attempting to lift his colossal frame after a seemingly great fall.
Kersels work has documented the philosophical dilemma of his corpulent body for many years in different photographic series that depict subjects such as the launching and smashing of a Kouros boy sculpture and the tossing of a beautiful girl into space. Time and again the artist questions both our collective need to fit into a concept of normalcy and the fear response characterized by laughter. Society laughs at fat people. But he insouciantly flips the energetic equation by performing as a fat person and inviting us to laugh and then feel guilty about our need to do so. Ultimately, he questions the notion of beauty as inherently good, implying instead that beauty makes us all feel ugly and through self-effacement one can rid themselves of the desire to be anything but an authentic self.
I believe the ancient gods would force me to eat my words in my rather twisted assessment of the philosophical musings of two mere mortals such as Beal and Kersels. And so I beg their forgiveness and appeal to their sense of adventure. After all, this Jetsetter believes in the good life…not so much Dionysian, but as Menander once noted, “He only lives, who living enjoys life.” And so, darlings, I don’t have to convince you that I have a zest for living and all the finer things, which is why perhaps I am feeling rather kalokagathia today. Ciao, I am off to Yia-Yia’s in Glyfada to sit on the rooftop and stare at the yachts docked at the Athenian port[.]
This post was contributed by Mary Anna Pomonis