Ed and Nancy Reddin Kienholz, makers of savagely satirical sculptural tableaux that excoriated post-WWII American culture, declared that they wanted to make art “on a scale that competes with the world.” The explosion of esthetics and media in recent years has caused many contemporary artists to erase any distinction between art making and other forms of activity (following the ideas of Robert Rauschenberg), and to consider art as simply a microcosm of society, instead of an alternate or even adversarial reality. The unintended consequence of art’s assimilation by life is that all too often art loses its power and relevance. Two Bay Area artists, Taro Hattori and Jordan Essoe, directly confront this diminished capacity of contemporary art by choosing ambitious and even daunting historical and philosophical themes.
Taro Hattori, with sculpture and mixed-media light-boxes, comes to terms with war and memory. V-2 is a life-sized model of a WWII German “retaliation weapon.” Those rockets, designed by Wernher von Braun, are the prototypes of all military rockets, and von Braun was recruited after V-E Day by the United States to jump-start its postwar ballistic missile program.
Hattori’s and Essoe’s works are ambitious, intelligently conceived and flawlessly executed. Like many contemporary works, they are the residue or by-product of investigations, procedures of methodologies, rather than ingratiating or beautiful (or even generally accessible) objects. It is encouraging that, after generations of formalist dogma, artists are now tackling larger themes again, though, of course, in a thoroughly contemporary manner.