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.
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.