Ben Jackel and Edward and Nancy Kienholz at L.A. Louver
By Genie Davis
Through September 1st
Now through the 1st of September, Ben Jackel’s Reign of Fire and Edward and Nancy Kienholz’ The Jungen and The Non War Memorial, create a riveting gallery experience at L.A. Louver in Venice.
Based in Los Angeles, Ben Jackel’s recent work takes on heavy hitting themes, often political in nature. His sculptures here are incredibly detailed as he recreates weapons, armor, and tools. Balaclavas, helmets, canons – there is a dark intensity to these works. They are heavy in theme and in physical form, clearly revealing the dominance these forms represent. While the title of the exhibition is directed toward the way in which many of the ceramic works are fired in a kiln, it is highly relevant today (fire and fury, anyone?) and evokes the weightiness of dominance, repression, conquest, and battle.
Created in stoneware, Jackel’s canons, placed in position as if about to be fired, are a symbolic and realistic army of none. Cruel and cold, these inanimate objects serve as an extension of our own assertion of human dominance, capable of annihilating from afar, removing as much as possible the human contact and some of the personal culpability of war. Similarly, Jackel’s beeswax and stoneware “Gas Mask” also conceals the human, allows the monster of war to be cloaked, hidden. There is something terrifying indeed about the artist’s display representing headgear from the 15th to the 21st century. This is how man was and how he continues to be. We mask ourselves, as if we could be concealed from the horror of war. Also faceless are drones such as “Darkstar,” created of mahogany, graphite, and ebony, a sleek, bat-like shape hung above the canons. The brutal teeth of “Trap” seem destined to capture and hurt not only some equally faceless enemy, but perhaps our own humanity itself.
Warriors and observers alike are watched over by a large scale bust of an angry-looking, open-mouthed Teddy Roosevelt. Perched on a pedestal, the dominance of this figure reminds viewers that this was a president who roared over the global playing field. Where it is comforting to think of him as a ruler who established national parks and protected his nation, this was not a man who preached turning the other cheek when it came to military aggression. Speak softly and carry a big stick was not a euphemism, but a clear warning to others that we were prepared to use physical force if pushed to it. The outsized, four-foot-tall work reveals the power wielded, the legacy created. In contrast, “Dark Tower” represents the would-be empire of Donald Trump. Forming what Jackel calls a structure that is “central to the hierarchy and power base of human civilization,” this is a monolith, a faceless attempt to control without personal conscience or consequence, humanity kept at bay inside this impenetrable façade.
This powerful, dark show is Jackel’s fourth with the gallery.
Also on display are four historical works by Edward Kienholz and Nancy Reddin Kienholz, works whose subject matter dovetails with Jackel’s. The pieces were created from 1970-1987, but these are prescient works, very much of this moment as well as of our recent past. Here the artists are invoking the reality of war and what grows from its aftermath.
“The Non War Memorial” was a response to the massive loss of life during the Vietnam War. It was originally designed as an outdoor memorial that was to have included some 50,000 surplus uniforms stuffed with dirt. These corpse-like sculptures were to have been placed across 75 acres of land in Idaho; the idea was that over time the uniforms would disintegrate and wildflowers would emerge. Here, viewers see five such dirt-filled uniforms lying at the bottom of pedestal on which sits a book of photographs of 50,000 dirt-filled uniforms. “The Jungen” is a mixed-media installation of photographs, metal wall panels, and a variety of World War II-era objects. The works serve as a bridge to understanding the German soldiers of the time. Two other assemblages, “Still Dead End Dead I” and “Still Dead End Dead 2” combine objects associated with the fallout of war, from a soldier’s helmet to images of the American flag, a shovel, and discarded doll heads. Poignant and spooky, these pieces offer the howl of pain that is war; the propagandizing that creates wars; and the silence of death which is all that soldiers, civilians, and culpable politicians can, in the end, hear from the grave. However, the art of both Jackel and the Kienholz speaks to viewers loud and clear.
L.A. Louver is located at 45 North Venice Blvd.