by Mark Van Proyen
Tim Hawkinson was 46 years old when he had his first major retrospective at the Whitney Museum in 2006. If memory serves, it was a vast, sprawling and far-flung affair, very much in keeping with the widespread proliferation of high-production artistic presentations that followed in the wake of Matthew Barney’s 2002 Cremaster project at the Guggenheim. Like so many of the other extravaganzi of that ilk, Hawkinson’s retrospective revealed a vast proliferation of materials, media, techniques and subject matter, and the installation emphasized his mostly large- scale efforts. Perhaps more importantly, it also revealed his particular ways of working with those things, which rested on imaginative repurposing of commonplace things like aluminum foil and rubber extension cords. If one were to further characterize that imagination, we might note that it brought a science fiction sensibility to the interstitial space between sculpture and installation, with many of the works looking like the residues of nefarious experimentation. In many ways, his working method seemed and still seems freakishly homespun, but at the same time very concerned with the question of what it means to make art
in a hyper-technological environment. It is even fair to say that there was a core theme that emerged from the multitude of forms and operations contained in that retrospective, that being a meditation on the emerging possibilities of the biotechnologized body and the mutability of the myriad subjectivities that might be contained and sustained within it. In so many different ways, the work included in Hawkinson’s early-career survey of a dozen years ago reminded us of the subtle and not-so-subtle ways that, in a post-genome world, each of us have become minor monsters of Frankensteinian provenance.
Hawkinson’s current exhibition at Pace Palo Alto represents a continuation of these earlier concerns, but also a departure away from them in the direction of subtle introversion and quasi-literary allusions. The exhibition, titled All That Glitters Must Come Down, seems to foretell an impending moment of cosmic reckoning, a step away from large installations and toward discreet sculptural objects, the majority of which are mounted on pedestals, the elimination of which was an earmark of modernist sculpture, according to Rosalind Krauss.
The first work that one encounters is titled Odalisque (all works 2018), which is formed out of several interlocked looping forms, some of which seem like small car tires covered in urethane or fabric. The loops come together to make it appear as if it is an abstracted reclining figure, so the title seems to fit, as it does for its similarly configured companion piece, Diamond Odalisque, fashioned out of egg cartons and reflective mylar.
More explicit references to the body appear in Bather (Moby Dick), in which a small bathtub and some fragmented figurative elements combine to re-enact the climatic scene from Herman Melville’s famous novel. In this, a layer of faded blue denim represents a turbulent sea, while what appears to be a polyurethane knee emerges to play the role of a breaching sperm whale.
A collection of misshapen digits formed of the same material fill out the shipwreck story, representing castaway sailors floating in the denim “waves”. Several other works also employ disjointed figurative fragments. These are also made from painted urethane and set atop tall pedestals. Venus (Cube), with its a mélange of belly and breast forms set upon tiny feet, looks like an homage to the Venus of Willendorf. Another of these sculptures, again titled Odalisque, employs the same body parts in a reclining format that seems to imagine a collaboration between Henry Moore and Hans Bellmer.
Located in the corners of the gallery’s back room are four additional works that use images of the artist’s body: low-resolution multiple exposures, made from images the artist had taken of himself on a rotating base. They hang from the ceiling like banners and are framed by reflectivegold material: repurposed emergency blankets. They are all titled Baldachin, a reference to the spiraling canopy posts made by Gian Lorenzo Bernini for the crypt of St. Peter in the Vatican. In all four, the figurative image spirals upward in the manner of a smoke plume, establishing a heavenly masculine counterpoint to the implicitly feminine forms of the Venus and Odalisque works.
Juggernaut, the largest work in the exhibition, is made to seem even larger by virtue of having been mounted before an inflatable blue tarp, suspended from the ceiling reaching almost to the floor. It features a pool ladder fashioned out of what looks to be space debris, atop which sits a huge tiara of a sort that might be placed on the head of a storybook princess with a triple-digit hat size. The crown itself is precisely fashioned out of twisted egg cartons covered with reflective mylar, showing a lot of careful craftsmanship. When activated, it puts on a show by careening and wobbling about, as if all claims to royalty are subject to perpetual gyroscopic turmoil.
Given that the general focus of this exhibition is on smaller, more condensed and more allusive works, I cannot help but muse about their relationship to old-school surrealist poetics, even as they, by way of their organization of oddball industrial materials, also hark back to aspects of Russian Constructivism. Therein lies part of the magic of Hawkinson’s new series of sculpture. Since the early 1940s, it was thought that the two traditions emanating from those 20th century movements were more or less incompatible, because the former was expressly anti-materialist while the latter was fully committed to the esthetic possibilities of sheer materiality. But during the past 50 years, the pros and cons of the many understandings (and misunderstandings) of materialism have since created a confused situation where the most surreal and most material of things have both been subordinated to the overarching meta-materialism of run-away information-for-the-sake-of-information, with no return in sight. In other words, there is no longer any dependable way to distuingish Realism from Surrealism. This failure may portend a disaster insofar as our political culture is concerned, but apart from that, it gives artists like Hawkinson a rich playground of possibilities for establishing unstable dialogs between povera materials and peculiar allusions, some of which show us the way forward, others of which point toward an apocalyptic future.
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Tim Hawkinson: All That Glitters Must Come Down @ Pace Palo Alto through September 9, 2018.
About the Author:
Mark Van Proyen’s visual work and written commentaries focus on satirizing the tragic consequences of blind faith placed in economies of narcissistic reward. Since 2003, he has been a corresponding editor for Art in America. His recent publications include: Facing Innocence: The Art of Gottfried Helnwein (2011) and Cirian Logic and the Painting of Preconstruction (2010). To learn more about Mark Van Proyen, read Alex Mak's December 9, 2014 interview, published on Broke Ass Stuart's Goddamn Website.