Clayton Press and Gregory Linn keep their Ridable Steer—a multiple by Jason Rhoades—in their living room, near the bay window. “The person who is going to be lassoed sits here,” Greg explains. He points out the scooter and blue buckets that make up the body of the piece, then the steer horn handles. “It’s very autobiographical. Jason grew up on a ranch. He did rodeo in 4-H.”
“It makes you think of Picasso and his bicycle,” Ingrid observes.
“Exactly,” Clay agrees.
Ingrid, Robert, Dana, and I have driven out to Clay and Greg’s New Jersey home this spring afternoon to see the Rhoades works in their collection. We’re hoping to borrow a few for an upcoming show at ICA, Jason Rhoades, Four Roads, which will be the first major American museum exhibition of this prolific, provocative, intrepid artist who died in 2006 at the age of 41.
Clay and Greg knew Jason well. They traveled widely to see his exhibitions, which were mostly in Europe, though Rhoades’s home and studio were in Los Angeles. Greg met Jason in 1993 when Greg was working for the gallerist David Zwirner. Just out of art school, Jason came in one day to meet with Zwirner. “In the six months I worked there,” Greg says, “David was sick one day. And it was the day Jason was in town.” So Greg met with him instead.
“Jason had these three-ring binders,” Greg recalls. “He gave me his history as an artist; he had thought it all through. It was like a performance: he was talking in a persona, but also not. He referred to his life, but also to art history. I had never had any kind of encounter with an artist like that. I called David and told him, ‘You’ve got to see this.’ So, we were there from the very beginning.”
Jason Rhoades, who grew up in rural, inland, conservative California, often worked his childhood experiences into his art: rodeos, garages, gardens, guns. The piece we’ve been looking at—its full title is The Future Is Filled With Possibilities (Ridable Steer)—is one example, and in the next room we encounter a second. The A.B.S Gun with Pom Fritz Choke and Aquanet is a machine-gun-like object which uses hairspray as a propellant to shoot potatoes, turning them, in the process, into French fries. At Clay and Greg’s, it hangs on the wall along with its stapled-together operating instructions.
“It’s only been fired once,” Clay says. “We actually have the original can of Aqua Net.”
“Once I saw how powerful it was, there was no way we were going to use it,” Greg says.
“And the crazy thing is, it worked,” Ingrid says.
“When he shot those potatoes,” Clay says, “we never saw them again.”
A third multiple, Bottle Pumpkin, sits on the other side of the room. A cylindrical cardboard container opens to reveal a large hand-painted gourd and a backpack that unzips to reveal a stack of snapshots. Ingrid, thrilled, looks through the photographs. “There’s his dad and his mother painting the pumpkins.”
“The gourd was grown in his parents’ garden,” Greg tells us. “The container becomes the pedestal.”
“Like a Brancusi,” Ingrid observes. “Jason said the only artists you needed were Brancusi and Duchamp.”
Ingrid has been working on this show for years. She has conducted research in New York, Los Angeles, Zurich, Berlin, Ghent, and London; examined voluminous piles of notes, diagrams, and photos; compiled huge binders of materials; assembled a round table of curators and associates who worked with Rhoades to exchange ideas. Jason Rhoades, Four Roads will fill the entire ICA with Rhoades’s busy, noisy, sprawling, obsessively organized installations, which can be enormous. (In 1999 he built what he claimed was the biggest sculpture ever made at the Deichtorhallen in Hamburg.) Ingrid’s idea is that this show will be a kind of primer, a first look, an opportunity to open the work up and make it visible to people who have never seen it—which is most people. Even so, in terms of size, time, money, and organization, this show, which opens September 18, will be among the most ambitious exhibitions ICA has ever presented. Even four months out, time feels short. The countdown has begun.
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