Art review: ‘Disappointment’ a household name

By By Eric Allen, News Staff

In the same way that slasher films have become a joke ‘- if not only for their gratuitous use of horror cliches and low production values ‘- Los Angeles artist Rodney McMillian’s exhibit at the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA), Sentimental Disappointment, was, quite fittingly, a disappointment.

The pieces, most of which look like they could have been lifted right from some derelict, eerily sinister home, failed to reach any kind of emotional peak in their synthesis.’

Save for one, every piece was contained to the ICA’s small Momentum Gallery. The back wall of the room was covered with ‘Untitled (4443 Prospect Ave.),’ a canvas-and-paint rendering of the facade of McMillian’s house made to scale.’

With gobs of oil-black paint and red undertones in the door and windows, it looked fit for a family of zombies. Only, in the airy, white gallery, its foreboding evaporated the minute it leapt from the canvas.

The exhibit’s takeaway pamphlet, written by ICA Chief Curator Nicholas Baume, describes McMillian’s work as ‘a meditation on disappointment’ and refers specifically to ‘Untitled (4443 Prospect Ave.)’ as an interpretation of the ‘mythic’ American Dream. Didn’t F. Scott Fitzgerald already break down that myth in The Great Gatsby?’

It was impossible to view each piece without being interrupted ‘- audibly, at least ‘- by the song playing in ‘Untitled (I loves you Porgy),’ the only piece kept in a separate room. It’s a video projection of McMillian dancing in front of a long mirror, which is leaning against a wall.’

The video, about 48 minutes long, plays on a loop in conjunction with the song ‘I Loves You Porgy’ by Diana Ross. Its frame is narrowed to only include a small bit of space around the mirror’s edges, the shot is turned 90 degrees clockwise, levitating on the wall below eye level.

In the video, McMillian is dressed in a suit and casually performs jazz steps in front of a bed. His head is cut off by the top of the mirror, and the music is projected directly into the gallery.’

It was arresting to see the mirror image of a man dancing alone and sideways for such a long period of time.’

If the viewer steps in just the right spot, his or her shadow can enter the projection. Except the viewer can’t join him because of the video’s sideways orientation.

And so the headless form dances alone, suspended in the air, for a period of time that makes him seem incredibly lonely, and the viewer helpless.

Other pieces carried a similar intensity. ‘Untitled,’ a dingy, white mid-century lounge chair pierced from the bottom up by a black cylinder almost two feet in diameter and about seven feet tall felt simultaneously frenzied and static.’

‘Untitled (refrigerator)’ was an old fridge with a gaping, torn hole in the freezer door and it lingered on the wall like a ghostly relic of the humming appliance it used to be. And the Burbank Public Library magnet on the freezer door felt unsettling.

‘Untitled (kitchen table and chairs),’ which is exactly as it is named, felt superfluous in a world where Dadaist Marcel Duchamp already gave us readymades.’

Set on top of the table was a TV playing ‘Untitled (futon)’ ‘- a video of McMillian clad in yellow PVC overalls stabbing a futon mattress ‘- and it was perplexing, if not meaningless.’

One viewer remarked, ‘Is there money in it?’ referring to the mattress. By the end of the video, McMillian has ripped the mattress to shreds and divided it into trash bags. This plays for about 25 minutes, on a loop.

Most pieces in the exhibit are worthwhile individually, but their feeling fizzled when viewed comprehensively.’

What’s to blame is the stark white room ‘- it stunts any dark feeling. But since white walls are a prerequisite for almost any kind of gallery space, is the gallery really to blame? It’s puzzling really, but ultimately, it’s the exhibit’s lack of ability to keep itself together that’s disappointing.

A visit to Sentimental Disappointment is best left to the meticulous museum patron. Otherwise, pass through before viewing another exhibit.

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