Sprawled across Baltic’s two main gallery floors, Jason Rhoades’ Four Roads exhibition unites some his most renowned work to create a colossal, retrospective body of work. Produced over a twelve-year period, before the artist’s untimely death, the exhibition encompasses work from four phases of his artistic production, American Artist, Systems, Jason the Mason and PeaRoeFoam, using the synergy of each piece to tell a contorted tale.
With such grand ideas it didn’t take Rhoades long to be catapulted on to the contemporary nineties art scene. After graduating from UCLA under the tutelage of his close friend Paul McCarthy, his international breakthrough came after joining the illustrious David Zwirner gallery with his first show American Aritist. In typical Rhoades style he transformed the gallery into a monumental construction, with his large-scale installation ‘Cherry Mikita – Honest Engine Work’ (1993) taking centre stage.
This whimsically built garage now fills the entrance to BALTIC’s level three-gallery space. The entire structure narrates the tale of a failed formula one driver, turned cocaine dealer, with even the clutter and debris strewn about garage belying hidden meaning. But the main focus to this testosterone fuelled, yet fragile, structure is the V8 car engine that sits at its heart. Hoisted on wooden blocks coloured to match the cordless Mikita power tool – that lends its name to the piece.
From his Systems collection ‘The Creation Myth’ (1998) is a vulgar and vulnerable installation. With snaking wires and a dizzying amount of materials, it is designed to be an abstract manifestation of the inner workings of the artist’s brain. Upon entering the random and chaotic space, the viewer encounters a variety of digital medias such as projectors and live video feeds which are designed to represent memory storage. As you meander through the maelstrom of Rhoades’ mind you are confronted with an impressive array of clippings from outdated porn magazines, an honest nod to their importance in his memory banks.
The exhibition continues to level four where Jason the Mason is represented through the assembled structure ‘Sutters Mill’ (2000). Built from leftovers of ‘Perfect World’, which Rhoades claimed was the largest sculpture ever built, the thick metal scaffolding will be stripped down and reconstructed throughout the day by two gallery handlers. Whilst paying homage to John Sutter and the Californian gold rush, this is also built on a sense of place and history in reference to the artist’s childhood, in which he took part in the restoration of the derelict Sutter’s sawmill near the family farm in California.
The contents of PeaRoaFoam befit its name, unusual and random. Dried red salmon eggs, dried green peas and white Styrofoam beads are mixed together with large amounts of glue to form an unpleasant ‘cement’. Usually concocted by Rhoades within the gallery space, this bizarre building compound is boxed and packed as if it were a revolutionary mass-produced product, albeit in to Ivory Snow boxes which were specifically selected due to their association with actress Marilyn Chambers, who starred in the first feature length porn film to be made; Behind the Green Door.
Her presence adorns many surfaces in the ‘Grand Machine / THEAREOLA’ (2002) – which acts as the assembly line where the utopian concoction was first produced – but not as much as the PeaRoaFoam, which is smeared over almost every surface, even dribbling over on to neighbouring works. It can often seem random and sporadic, yet it typifies Rhoades’ desire to create an assemblage of works that blur the lines between fiction, reality and art.
Jason Rhoades: Four Roads, BALTIC, Gateshead, 6 March – 31 May 2015.
Image courtesy of BALTIC.
Niomi Fitzsimmons Fairweather is an artist and writer based in Newcastle.