Jason Rhoades (1965-2006)
Jason Rhoades (1965-2006)

Sweet Chocolate Nation

Details
Jason Rhoades (1965-2006)
Sweet Chocolate Nation
19 neon phrases; 19 B&W photographic prints; 7 neon transformers; 5 dreamcatchers (wire, leather, beads, feathers); 4 brass hookah stems; 3 three-outlet plugs; 2 orange extension cords; 1 brass hookah bowl; 1 ceramic donkey; 1 molded plastic "truck nutz"; aluminum armature wire; monofilament fishing line; rubber end caps; neon GTO cable; cotton lace and hot melt glue
96 x 92 x 88 in. (243.8 x 233.7 x 223.5 cm.)
Executed in 2006.
Provenance
Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner

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Kathryn Widing
Kathryn Widing

Lot Essay

“I am more interested in creating problems than solving them”—Jason Rhoades

A striking example of Jason Rhoades’s unique sculptural forms, Sweet Chocolate Nation is a rare example of a work of this size and complexity. Bold, brash and avowedly confrontational, Rhoades’s weaves together disparate objects into one captivating and complex work that speaks to his singular narrative. Neon words shout out vulgar obscenities, yet they are placed next to sentimental tchotchkes in a complex tapestry of love and hate. Using materials ranging from the harsh and industrial, to the sentimental and highly personal, he speaks to the nature of masculinity at a time when this traditional concept has been challenged like never before. Completed shortly before the artist’s death in 2006 (at the age of just 41), it offers a lasting legacy of Rhoades singular aesthetic. Widely acclaimed as one of the most unique voices of his generation, his sculptures first came to prominence in 1995 at the Whitney Biennial in New York, and since then his work has been acquired by major institutional collections including the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam and the Tate Gallery, London. His work will also be the subject of a major retrospective at the Brant Foundation Art Study Center in Greenwich, Connecticut this coming fall. 

Suspended from the ceiling, Rhoades’s amalgamation of neon, electrical transformers, photographs, wires, feathers and even a ceramic donkey is a resolute tour-de-force. It occupies its environment with an unstoppable energy, the illuminated words and phrases shouting their presence with aggressive determination as, together with suggestive ‘curios,’ they sit incongruously alongside innocuous ceramic ornaments. The multicolored neon spells out a lexicon of crude and suggestive slang for female genitalia, words that individually may seem anodyne, but when grouped together form a more shocking lexicon. Despite its challenging nature, this amalgamation of forms seems to draw the viewer in, captivated at first by trying to decipher the intriguing array of objects, then once the associations become clear, reality sets in.

Often politically charged and darkly exuberant, Rhoades’s work assertively pushes at the boundaries of cultural niceties. Although appearing chaotic, Rhoades’s sculptures are in fact thoroughly considered affairs. Rhoades expands the frontiers of artistic convention, eschewing traditional classifications such as painting, photography, sculpture and performance art, producing works which have been categorized as defiantly Maximalist. In Sweet Chocolate Nation long wire armatures wrapped with photographs extend outwards, as if providing some degree of stability to what hangs below. Then, each element has a strict placement as determined by the artist. “People say, ‘It looks so chaotic, it just looks like a mess,’” Ingrid Schaffner, curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia said. “But it’s really not. Everything is considered. Everything plays a role” (I. Schaffner, quoted by R. Kennedy, ‘Sublime Jumbles, Reverently Reassembled: Jason Rhoades Is Getting a Solo Museum Survey,” New York Times, September 13, 2013, via http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/14/arts/design/jason-rhoades-is-getting-a-solo-museum-survey.html [accessed 8/25/2017]).

Jason Rhoades studied art at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), where he came under the influence of highly original and innovative artists such as Chris Burden, Nancy Rubins, Charles Ray, and Paul McCarthy. Rhoades’s unique combination of the performative and the sculptural, was influenced by fellow Californian artist Richard Jackson. This combination, plus his use of ubiquitous, often discarded, materials have caused some to link his work to that of Robert Rauschenberg, whose performative assemblages revolutionized the New York art world of the 1950s and 1960s.

Rich in visual and conceptual texture Jason Rhoades’s work is both shocking and poetic. His unique brand of innovative thinking, his focus on the new, his use of technology and consumer inspired material is incredibly prescient for today’s fast paced, media saturated, politically charged world. As the concept of masculinity comes under ever-intense scrutiny, Rhoades sculptures seem to revel in their lavish lasciviousness. Writing in 2006, shortly after the artist’s premature death, critic Jerry Saltz described his work as “sprawling, testosterone-driven sculptural environments with so much narrative that they were transformed into walk-in versions of the Marquis de Sade's 120 Days of Sodom. They were orgies of narrative… - Nevada's celebrated Chicken Ranch brothel crossed with Wal-Mart and Kurt Schwitters' Merzbau, the never-completed house filled with fantastical interiors. Rhoades embedded his three-dimensional blowouts with id, excess, obnoxiousness, rascally ambition and a rampaging life force” (J. Saltz, “Jason Rhoades,” The Guardian, August 11, 2006, via https://www.theguardian.com/news/2006/aug/12/guardianobituaries.artsobituaries [accessed 8/25/2017]).

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