Rob Pruitt, Exquisite Self-Portrait: Father Martian, 2010. Images via the New York Times unless otherwise noted.
Rob Pruitt, the artist behind “Artworks for Teenage Boys” and “Artworks for Teenage Girls,” both paeans to and explorations of perceptions of adolescence, springboards off a particular microcosm of teenagerhood, the Amish rumspringa, in his current exhibition, “Pattern and Degradation.” This show, which opened September 11th at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise and Maccarone, represents an ongoing rumspringa for the artist himself. In the Amish tradition, teens are given the chance to take temporary leave of their traditional, restrictive culture in order to indulge in the excesses of mainstream American youth, and then are allowed to decide if they wish to return to the community or stay in the outside world.
More text and images after the jump…
Rob Pruitt, “Pattern and Degradation,” installation view with tire sculptures, 2010. Image via the Huffington Post.
For Pruitt, “Pattern and Degradation” is the manifestation of the artist’s life lived as an unbroken exploration of this tradition. Painted piles of tires are filled with indulgent, American-snack icons, such as oreos, pretzels, and foil-wrapped chocolate coins. On the walls are paintings of recognizable, faux-ironic t-shirts, including copulating pandas only a fifteen-year old could pull off, and the tongue-in-cheek “Double-DOUBLE-Rainbow,” playing on the viral YouTube video.
The show is infused throughout with youthful wit, represented also by Pruitt’s repainted IKEA wall-art and rows of chrome-taped chairs, but the humor is clearly projected through an adult lens. The results of the artist’s alleged perpetual teenagerdom do not fall prey to the messiness of bona-fide adolesence; for all the glitter, Pruitt’s artworks here reveal a hard, clean, straight, and highly-organized mind. The extremes, indulgences, and silliness of young American pop-culture are thoroughly explored – at an arm’s length.
That adult distance, while carefully preserved, does not amount to an adult’s ennui. While the chaos of adolescence experienced through grown-up dis-affectation could easily lead to a dreary, dire product, the work in “Pattern and Degradation” is consistently thoughtful, lively, and even pretty. The potentially rote quality of silly t-shirt after silly t-shirt is supplanted by a bright sort of attractiveness; the result of Pruitt’s believable contentment with what those t-shirts have to offer. This acceptance is perhaps most evident in his series of composite self-portraits. While the artist may be exploring his own myriad identities, the subject of the work remains clearly defined. While self-exploration may be a lifelong process, the murkiness and uncertainty of that liminal phase between innocence and maturity is left behind.
“Pattern and Degradation” ultimately exhibits a very adult visit to youthful excess. Rumspringa, inherently an impermanent concept, is excepted from its own rule in this case, and here represents a lifelong sojourn. Images of Woody Allen, which appear both on the t-shirt paintings and in a large Warholian pastiche, emphasize the realities of Pruitt’s central thesis. The repetition of Allen’s image, knees hugged to his chest, is an affirmation that you can shift gears like a kid, insert yourself into a culture you’ve been given, and stand next to it, gimlet-eyed, all at the same time.
Rob Pruitt, ‘Pattern and Degradation’ [Time Out NY]
Review: A Penitent Reflects on the Wilderness [NY Times]
Review: Cat Weaver: Rob Pruitt, Pattern and Degradation [The Huffington Post]
Official Website [Gavin Brown’s Enterprise]
Official Website [Maccarone]