By Alexander Bigman
There’s nothing serious about Adam Parker Smith’s work in Forever 21, now at Ever Gold Gallery. The exhibition contains, among other like items, a tapestry of friendship bracelets spelling the proposal “Will U Marry Me?”, several foam core butts, a pair of Kanye West-style shutter shades cut out of actual venetian blinds, and a group of framed celebrity headshots. Its culmination is a foam and acrylic watermelon, baring a cavity of obscenely suggestive girth.
This is not to say that the works cannot be taken seriously. On the contrary, to simply dismiss them as a motley collection of visual one-liners, crude suggestions and ironic, glancing pop culture references would be to admit a lack of true engagement with the work. As with all good comedy, it is what remains necessarily beneath the surface that merits attention.
Consider the celebrity portraits of Keanu Reeves, Nicole Kidman and Matthew Broderick, the latter youthfully immortalized in a Ferris Bueller’s Day Off poster. At first glance, one might shrug these off as yet another comment on the idolatry of and misplaced intimacy toward Hollywood stars – a well-worn subject.
But a closer look reveals something else: the Plexiglas protecting these faces looks to be fogged with condensation – a clever effect produced with resin and frosting spray – that has been in places wiped off or inscribed with a finger note (Kidman apparently sends her “best wishes” from inside). Really, the works speak not so much to the cool critic as to the person who feels genuine affection for these figures; who watched Broderick grow up, from troublemaking adolescent to middle-aged Honda spokesman. For this person, Broderick really does seem close enough to fog the glass.
Then there’s the watermelon, set off alone in its own room, the pink interior of its suspect orifice literally aglow. It could be the handiwork of a teenage boy desperately looking to simulate the sex act, or a fraternity brother tasked with fashioning a novel drinking instrument. Either way, a certain pathos lurks about the punch line.
Moreover, while these particular circumstances don’t exactly merit celebration, the spirit of resourcefulness that motivates them might.
Comedy, Smith notes, is often born from struggle: poverty of resources necessitates clever go-arounds that, because of the way they twist conventions, appear humorous in their pathos. Smith turns immediately to an example more contentious than melon masturbation: the Internet meme of a Libyan rebel, bearing a grenade launcher while clad in Nike sneakers (a Google search for “hipster rebel” will yield the image).
The humor in this image, Smith suggests, lies not so much in the irony of finding an iconic American fashion item in a scene of such alien gravitas, as in admiration of the soldier’s determined resourcefulness in the way of battle gear. We are moved by this act of making-do, Smith believes. It just so happens that, because of contradictory elements in the image, we are compelled to transcribe the emotion into one of humor.
Both the argument and the choice of example here beg for further scrutiny, but as far as Forever 21 is concerned, this is neither here nor there. Smith’s practice so far has skirted any subject matter nearly so loaded as the “hipster rebel,” and deftly so. His joker’s sensibility is better suited to, as he puts it, “undercurrents of dysfunction, death, sex, insecurities and things like that” – simpler fare and easy prey for the comedic attitude’s clandestine philosophical grip. Whether or not Smith’s deflowered fruit, friendship bracelet marriage proposal and celebrity shrines are moving to quite the extent that he intends, they do have heart, first impressions notwithstanding.
Hours: Wed-Sat 1-6pm.
Exhibition ends December 15th, 2012.