Art review: 'Everlasting Gobstopper' at Michael Benevento
Like a slap in the face to summer sunshine, the group show “Everlasting Gobstopper” at Michael Benevento is a dark, sticky concoction of sex, drugs, death and decay. It’s also a gender-bending funhouse-style romp that takes an incisive look at the connection between our baser instincts and mortality.
The unsettling atmosphere is set with an altered poster by Eva Rothschild: an image of a howling wolf so dark and low-contrast that it appears to flicker in and out of view against the black wall of the gallery’s narrow entrance. This formulaic image of untamed wilderness is rendered nearly imperceptible, and in a sense, truly mysterious.
From there, the show pairs Lil Picard’s burnt bow tie from 1968 — a succinct encapsulation of damaged gentility — with a 2010 sculpture by Michael E. Smith: a leather bag compacted and sealed into a tight black rectangle on the floor. Like a wrinkled slab of licorice, it’s both funereal and oddly appealing, but it also performs a subtle gender inversion, compressing the open volume of the bag into a slightly phallic solid. More aggressive is a devastatingly luscious Cindy Sherman photograph from 1987. Depicting a wig, condom and bloody panties artfully strewn across a field of dry leaves, it injects the specter of sexual violence into the lyrical space of abstraction.
The most interesting dialogue occurs between two video works by Spartacus Chetwynd and Pipilotti Rist. Chetwynd’s piece, “Hermito’s Children,” from 2008 is a 29-minute soap opera-inspired, retro-flavored narrative that recalls the psychedelics of video collective My Barbarian but goes to a darker place. The piece, which includes the ritual disemboweling of a papier mâché pig and a life-threatening encounter with a dildo seesaw (don’t ask), finishes with a cavalcade of naked women, shot from the waist down as they perform a coquettish dance and drape their bodies into an aesthetic cube of flesh. It’s hard to decide whether this kaleidoscope of pudenda — a kind of perverted (or liberated) Busby Berkeley number — is objectifying or empowering.
In comparison, Rist’s 1987 piece in the next room represents something of an inversion. “Sexy Sad I,” a riff on the Beatles’ title, “Sexy Sadie,” which is the work’s soundtrack, presents a naked young man alone in the woods. Also shot from the waist down, his arms flail and punch at the viewer. Despite this aggressive display, there’s something pathetic about his wagging genitalia and his seemingly futile battle with the unblinking camera that creates an impression of masculine vulnerability and isolation, especially compared to the surfeit of communal female nudity next door.
Both works touch on sexual objectification and empowerment as two sides of the same compromised coin. After all, sexual agency is to some extent an imposition of one’s own desires upon the body of another. And perhaps it is this fulcrum — where the body flickers between personhood and thing-ness — that cements the everlasting, ever fascinating link between sex and death.
-- Sharon Mizota
Michael Benevento, 7578 Sunset Blvd., L.A., (323) 874-6400, through Aug. 21. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.beneventolosangeles.com
Images: "Rothschild's Black Psycore, 1999," (top) and installation view. Courtesy Michael Benevento and Joshua White Photography.