Steering clear of her usual gooey weeping willows, Cristina Lei Rodriguez has tapped into the central nervous system of Sixties minimalist and junk art in her new show at Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin.
The radical shift strips gears at a pace that seems turbo-charged.
For years, Rodriguez has been known for creating glam-pitched gardens of Day-Glo cobra lillies, venus fly traps, and monkey cups battered in milky coats of resin and spackled in rhinestones and jewels.
Cristina Lei Rodriguez
Cristina Lei Rodriguez and Paul Morrison; Through May 24; Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin, 194 NW 30th St., Miami; 305-573-2130, www.galerieperrotin.com
The work offered a lush, Little Shop of Horrors-esque vision of an unbridled consumer culture skidding headlong toward at a cataclysmic end. The collision between grotesque vegetation and glitter and glam was as hard to peel the peepers from as a freeway wreck.
Yet you have to wonder if new works such as Untitled (Clear) will result more in confusion than rubbernecking here.
The foot-wide Plexiglas sculpture extends 60 feet across the gallery floor like a Carl Andre catwalk, and is marinated in epoxy slops, rhinestones, and metal studs. It's also easy to trip over if you're not careful. Make time to crouch near it and see how the lighting ripples off it and onto the wall in a winding, streaky flow.
Leaning against a wall next to it is Clear Plank — another unusual Plexiglas, epoxy, plastic, and glitter piece — reminiscent of John McCracken's work. The California artist made long fiberglass and plywood boards that also casually leaned against walls.
Looking at these works, so tectonically removed from Rodriguez's oeuvre, you sense the artist has been tinkering with notions of dematerializing form. Instead of a baroque heaping-on, as in the past, she appears more concerned with tightening the nuts and bolts. For those familiar with the artist's work, some of these new, more abstract sculptures might appear to have been executed by another's hand.
Two sculptures that further strip-mine the Sixties aesthetic are Untitled (for Judd) and Nugget (for Chamberlain).
The first one riffs on Donald Judd's interpretation of space and surface, typical of the boxes he made from industrial materials and strung at regular intervals on walls. Judd rigorously shunned making art that was representational in nature, and Rodriguez pirouettes behind him.
She has fashioned a three-foot-by-three-foot box out of Plexiglas that juts from a wall and is slathered with gunmetal gray and silver paint, glitter, and imitation gold leaf. Its pared-to-the-bone shape erodes under a corrosive surface that smacks of decay.
In the center of the gallery, Rodriguez's Chamberlain homage gains more traction and looks like a crumpled chariot or a brassy hotel elevator that's crashed down a 30-story chute.
Chamberlain earned fame for his sculptures made from parts of wrecked cars. Instead, Rodriguez uses metal, plaster, epoxy, glitter, sequins, imitation gold leaf, chain, tinsel, rhinestones, and what appears to be sundry offal picked from an industrial garbage scow. The piece gleams like fool's gold.
"I find something sexy about those slick, clean early-minimalist surfaces that connect to my work," Rodriguez explains. "My work is about indulgence, but I wanted to include layers of detail with transparency while balancing it all with restraint."
The artist says she found herself challenged when creating these new pieces in her studio. "I'd been thinking of many of these ideas for a long time. In the past, I've worked with these forms but covered them with foliage. This time I wanted to bring them to the forefront," she says. "Also, Miami is my hometown and where people are most familiar with my work. I had a solo show in New York earlier this year where the old work seemed to come easy for me. I felt it was the right time to let myself go and push it in a different direction."
Pieces that more recognizably bridge the old and the new are Vamp and Wreck, which are airier in execution. They are easily more playful than the bulk of her show, bringing to mind visions of Paris Hilton trashing Horton's Jungle of Nool.
One is a freestanding sculpture; the other dangles from the rafters to the floor. Both include bits of plastic, foam, wood, chain, fashion accessories, mesh, shrink-wrap, glitter, and artificial plants. Each enshrouds surprising elements that provoke the eye. They are works you can navigate fully, discovering subtle nuances each time.
Unlike her candy-colored earlier work, the artificial organic components here are nearly bleached of color; their tendrils appear caked in hot wax, as if they're waiting for a spring melt to help them burst through.
Rodriguez says that knowing when to quit was one of the hardest lessons in preparing for this show.
"While I'm in my studio, some of the pieces tend to get overwhelmed. I had to step away from work and return to it the next day, telling myself it doesn't need any more. I wanted to leave certain pieces open and really wrestled with that," she says.
For an artist whose stock soared early with her trademark chaotic imagining of nature, Rodriguez deserves kudos for avoiding her comfort zone.
Perrotin is also showing new works by British artist Paul Morrison, whose paintings and sculptures are ripe with botanical roots.
Near the entrance of the gallery soars Mericarp, a 10-foot-tall towering dandelion with menacing snaggletoothed leaves. The industrial powder-coated marine aluminum and galvanized sculpture is painted black.
His tarantula-black and powder-white woodcut-style paintings and drawings are starkly graphic and exude a weird Disney cartoon vibe.
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Some of the landscapes depict monstrous flora engulfing a shrinking copse of trees; others feature ornate baskets brimming with prickly blooms, evoking the Brothers Grimm.
The dandelion is a recurring motif. Galbulus — the artist gives his pieces scientific names signifying parts of plants — portrays one of the nettlesome weeds as its seeds burst upon a manicured lawn.
In these sometimes unsettling images, Morrison's looming plants and trees often drown a tiny solitary shack or windmill in the far background.
Despite their familiarity, these images remain rife with a pervasive melancholia resonating with muffled gloom. They are simply gorgeous, immaculately executed works that tweak perception with a skull-humping finesse.