I call it ORANGES

Art Reviews, Cultural Bric a Brac, Jargon Free

Location: Los Angeles, California, United States

I am an independent writer living in Los Angeles. I write Visual Art Reviews, General Cultural Essays, and Book Reviews.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Dan Attoe

Dan Attoe
Peres Projects, Los Angeles
October 28 – December 16

Relying on a subtext for meaning or critique is often a dangerous thing. Remember in High Fidelity when the main character admits honestly to the “danger of using someone else’s poetry” when making a mix tape for a girlfriend? The text of the songs say one thing (whatever Al Green wanted them to mean), but the girl can easily misunderstand the guy’s gesture because the song has a subtext which only the girl knows. This can be only her fantasy of what the song means, and the situation can get complicated for the guy. Out of the world of love and in the world of critique, the subtextual possibilities of signs can even be more dangerous. Sometimes the signs put forward for critique simply enact the fantasy meant to be condemned or at least the result is confusing like a bad mix tape.

Dan Attoe’s Loaded/Nailed/Short on Cash at Peres Projects has a great deal to do with fantasy and not much of a handle on its critique. The result for the viewer is a sort of Bruce Nauman/Richard Prince cocktail where one encounters someone else’s signs and tries a theoretical understanding from them. In Attoe’s case, I presume the signs belong to “conservative, redneck America,” supposedly, in Attoe’s eyes, full of gun toting, war mongering perverts. This, again presumably, is the culture to be critiqued in the show, but the result is a different story. It is a fantasy enacted, not a fantasy critiqued.

The truth is that entering the gallery, you get a nice, safe gallery opportunity to encounter paneling on the walls and pornographic neons (safe and gallery are almost always synonyms). You enter a makeshift trailer park hallway into exhibition space turned redneck mansion. There is a painting of fire and another of a Trans Am on lightboxes. Inside sits more paneling, a bar with Jack Daniels and tip bucket no doubt soon to double as a spittoon. Behind the bar, nothing less than two pinup bartenders complete with shit kicker boots.

The neons are confrontational, and they seem to take on the art going public. They are laced with short, declarative sentences: “Better learn how to Farm,” “Emotional Problems don’t mean shit,” “I’m going to blow your ass sky high,” “You are as vulnerable as the rest of us. Grow some balls.” One is inclined to take the words as the show’s lessons. Not many farmers in the world of fine arts. Growing some balls may have been promoted actively at one time, but the general rule of art seems to undermine that activity. On the surface, there seems to be a romantic desire to identify with those people that we assume supported Bush and war, and who elected him back to another term. They hate art. They hate galleries.

I only apply that description to the supposed people of Attoe’s aesthetic because of the overtones of the gallery suggest it -- the clichéd eagle poised to strike with WAR emblazoned above it, the vulnerable comment, or a naked angel saying “you have had it too easy.” The words, at least textually, are a slight on those liberal art people, full of complaints but not of action.

There is a subtext to the show, however, and with the added context of the gallery setting, the show becomes another enterprise entirely. The fact is you don’t exactly know where to stand in Attoe’s show? Is Attoe unapologetically blue collar, making art when he returns from the factory or the bar, and his gaggle of mullet headed kids are asleep (I use archetypes not because I believe them but because Attoe seems to). Does he believe in this way of life, does he respect it in any way?

Or is it that, as I am inclined to believe, that he is using an entire segment of American culture as a backhanded two way joke that can have its low culture fantasy while laughing at it at the same time. Attoe’s art can be and is, masculine, confrontational, and sexist like a decadent emperor. Yet, these qualities come across as disguised as critique in the gallery, as something that we can deride while drinking our Jack and Bud out of the can. This wantonness was compounded by the opening night party which reminded me of Paris Hilton on the Simple Life, in overalls but not dirty.

Ultimately, the exhibition depends on tricks to get its point across, but the tricks are not incredibly sly or give much in way of cultural understanding. The show simply gets what it wants and releases itself from responsibility.

Photo courtesy of Peres Projects, Los Angeles: Photo Credit: Joshua White