Categorized | Reviews

Ronald Peetz @ Axis

Dying to Know

Ron Peetz is a conceptualist with a mordant sense of humor and a knack for matching materials to ideas.  The meanings of his mostly sculptural works typically spring from clever punch lines that have a way of whacking you upside the head right about the time you’re ready to dismiss them for being too glib.  Lately, his concerns have centered around Big Questions – mortality and faith – while also touching on political, cultural or personal interests.  All get ample airing in this exhibition titled Objects in the Mirror.

Peetz traces his roots to the 1960s and 1970 when Funk blasted away the pretensions of East Coast formalism and made room – at least in the Bay Area – for art that prized material engagement and personal eccentricity. Hilton Kramer's somewhat misleading and clearly derisive characterization of it as “Dude Ranch Dada,” does, however, apply in some measure to Peetz who works out of a five-acre ranch in Lincoln, about 30 miles northeast of Sacramento.  He’s an effusive, witty, 71-year-old prankster whose unpretentious attitude toward art making tends to mask an underlying seriousness. Many examples illustrate, but the one that sticks in memory is an antler inscribed with the words “Intelligent Design,” an object whose meaning can be taken either as an endorsement of or an argument against a crackpot notion that denies what we know from Darwin.  That piece doesn’t appear in the show, but others of similarly open-ended and contradictory character do. 
A Song for R. Mutt

Tombstones carrying text are one of the artist’s favorite vehicles.  One, Dying to Know, appears in a photo carrying those same words.  It asks: What happens after death?  The religious presumption, that the answer arrives posthumously, points to the absurdity of having to die to unlock life’s biggest mystery.  Another tombstone, Touch Stone, is inscribed with the line: “I came into this world without my consent…and I will go out in the same manner.”  Peetz made the piece before Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law a doctor-assisted suicide bill.  But his point — that forces larger than us rule the universe — resonates.  So does a dinner plate that has superimposed on it an image of The Last Supper with a triangular slice removed, saying, essentially, that we are all dessert for the grim reaper. 

Other works in the show are more obscure. A heap of neon lights salvaged from Las Vegas set in an ancient wheelbarrow could well be a nod to Peetz’s old mentor, Bruce Nauman, or, alternately, a critique of language, an essential element in both men’s art.  Plugged in and with the lights dimmed, it makes for an incongruous sight, emblems of modern mass culture being carted off by a relic of the agrarian past.  Equally ambiguous is a wall piece that brings together three objects: a catcher’s mitt holding a wooden cross, a baseball bat cut up to form a square and a eviscerated baseball.  It droops like Dali’s melting clock.  Embedded in it there’s probably a connection between religion and the national pastime, but I can’t to tell you what it is.  Another piece falls short for being too obvious. A group of framed dollar bills with the words “Money is no object” superimposed across it echoes similar pieces that litter art fairs, but to what end?  Highlighting the futility of inducing shame amongst those incapable of feeling it?
Book Introduced to Termite Colony

Lest you think Peetz overly grim, there’s evidence of the artist's goofball side as well. For example, he fuses a dog’s body and a violin case into a single entity and calls it Song for R. Mutt, a tribute to (or sendup of) Duchamp.  Similarly, he weds an instrument case to a suitcase and calls it Making a Case for Tiny Moore, an obscure reference that only fans of western swing will catch:  Moore played mandolin for Bob Wills and Merle Haggard and retired to Sacramento where he taught music for many years before dying in 1987.

By far the strongest piece in the show is one in which Peetz fed a pile of old National Geographic magazines to a termite colony. From it we learn that termites are fantastic sculptors.  All that remains is a scabrous, topographically eaten-away slab whose message about decay and decline is of a piece with much else on view.
In taking the measure of Peetz, it’s hard not to think of Nauman, who, in explaining one of his most famous neon pieces, The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths (1967), observed: “Once written down, I could see that the statement…was on the one hand a totally silly idea and yet, on the other hand, I believed it. It's true and not true at the same time. It depends on how you interpret it and how seriously you take yourself.  Ron Peetz walks a similarly fine line — and with a similarly gimlet-eyed view of things. 
Ronald Peetz: “Objects in the Mirror” @ Axis Gallery through November 1, 2015.

2 Responses to “Ronald Peetz @ Axis”

  1. Can anything good come out of Lincoln? Yes, for all of you who know the area, thanks Ron for giving us a preview of what is swinging down on the “Dude Ranch”. I saw the show several times and enjoyed Ron’s discussion about his work and influences, it was an art historically rich and interesting summation to the show.

  2. Insightful review of the septuagenarian prankster’s stimulating show at Axis. Thanks to artist Ron Peetz for keeping us thinking and to David Roth for moving the process along. Loved seeing this show and am experiencing it a second time through this article.


Vertical Slideshow

Email Subscription Request

You will receive a verification message once you submit this form.