Commonwealth: Derek Larson @ Good Citizen Gallery

Derek Larson, Can’t Relax, foamcore, wood, dvd projection, 2011

Just can’t relax? Well then come into the garden, where you will be in good company with some Venuses, fountains, and a Greco-Roman reclining male nude sculpture, Can’t Relax (2011) with ferns fanning him as he lounges in a scene of swirling lights and a candy-cane striped border and pulsating swirling neons.  Not exactly what you pictured as a relaxing afternoon?  That’s because this garden is probably nothing you have ever imagined – it is a garden yes, but an  installation garden of earthly delights that Derek Larson presents in his solo show at Good Citizen that encompasses video, sculpture, and some pigs.  With a healthy dose of humor and questioning of ownership and space, Larson’s Commonwealth employs classic and contemporary imagery to get at the idea of what a genuine experience of ‘public’ art and sculpture can really be.

Derek Larson, Commonwealth exhibition, 2011, gallery shot including Lung Fountain, foamcore, wood, dvd projection, 2011

As viewers walk into the gallery, whose windows have been blacked out, they are welcomed into a psychedelic sculpture garden, directly referencing the Getty Center, but able to prompt memories of really any classical sculpture display in a large, institutional museum.  With a large, three-tiered ‘fountain’ in the center of the room, Lung Fountain (2011), a dvd projection, appears to be flowing with psychedelic swirls and changing stripped patterns, meant to be the liquids.  The image of the interior of a lung, for which the fountain is named, points to technological advances in medicine since the age of the ancients, and points to the age-old concept of the a fountain of life or of youth, whose compatriots are groovy 60s drug culture references.  But the fountain, like all of the projections, is not really there, and viewers are not really at the Getty Center – they are in a single room in St. Louis. The ‘garden’ has no real, living, growing plants or trees or any hard, highly-valued marble.  It is all a set-up, a stand-in. But, isn’t that what all classical sculpture displays at all museums are? The pieces most likely come from a range of geographical locations and dates, and are arranged as to evoke a ‘genuine experience,’ complete with plaques informing us of known information. Yet, as Larson points out with his inclusion of modern and contemporary imagery, we all, always, bring our own associations and baggage to a work of art, and even if he is being more obvious in how he wants to direct us to approach his institution-critiquing version of a garden, he at least is being honest about it.  


Derek Larson, Olive Pig, Gray Pig, Blue Pig, Pink Pig, Green Pig, inkjet prints, 2011

In the back of the garden, it becomes more and more clear that all is not right: five prints of grotesque pig heads (above), in varying colors, are stacked on top of each other on the rear wall.  With large snouts, leery eyes, and teeth-bearing grimaces, they seem to be stand-ins for the forces that be, the wealthy patrons of art, the buyers and sellers who control what we see and how we see it when we go to a museum, even a ‘public’ sculpture garden. 
And, while Larson is being critical, he is also having fun with it.  By using imagery from a variety of sources from the Getty to the internet, Larson refuses to take part in the classic high/low divide of the art world and rather infuses it with a sense of contemporary search-engine know-how that, despite its sophistication, can still bring us to kitchy, unexpected sites.  The crazed sculpture garden does point out the naivety of accepting that we the public are being presented with an authentic, genuine experience when we are in an institution that has to answer to patrons, a board of directors, and the usually weary of contemporary art public.  But, Larson makes clear, too, how a manipulated, contrived art experience is not a bad or negative thing – rather in recognizing the power of space, set-up, and the expectations that come with classical art, Larson has created a more welcoming, inclusive space.  The Commonwealth garden that he has created welcomes you to bring your own connotations, consider Larson’s, and take part in this humorous, creepy sculpture garden that makes you think about how effective and just plain cool mixed and new media can really be in creating and re-considering common spaces. 

Derek Larson, Striped White and Venus White, inkjet prints, 2011

Commonwealth: Derek Larson continues at Good Citizen Gallery at 2247 Gravois Ave, St. Louis, MO until 5 November, 2011. Good Citizen is free and open to the public Fridays and Saturdays, 12-5.



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