I am so very sorry to hear that Jason Rhoades passed away yesterday. I thought he was kind, generous and wonderfully eccentric man. When I wrote about him in February he was extremely open and I grew to love his artwork. It is heartbreaking to know that his genius and energy is gone for ever. Wherever he is, I’m wishing him well.
I’ve attached my article about his installation in memoriam and for those who would like to get to know him better.
LA Times February 14,2006
Provocation in neon, noise
* Some swear by Jason Rhoades and his vision. Some just swear. But the artist exacts freedom.
Home Edition, Calendar, Page E-1
27 inches; 908 words
The guests arrived one by one, the wealthy art collector and the museum director and the others, all spilling into a 4,000-square-foot L.A. studio filled with tungsten, black lights and piles of paraphernalia from EBay. At first glance, it looked like a haphazard reproduction of a Middle Eastern bazaar.
A variety of objects assaulted the senses: violet neon signs with African, Caribbean, Creole and hip-hop slang words for female genitalia: "cho cha," "chinchilla," "Sea of Tranquility," "clabby," "whim-wham" and "Cape Horn." These terms were perched among 805 Egyptian-made hookah pipes, 556 dream catchers, 180 beaver-felt cowboy hats, 147 gongshi stones from China and Chinese prayer rugs embossed with images of Jessica Simpson and Britney Spears.
Bits of Basquiat reproductions were arranged next to genuine Venetian glass fruit, while imitation Venetian glass fruit made in China was juxtaposed with aluminum replicas of artist Jeff Koons’ bunnies. Donkey carts abounded — all of it meant as a loose reference to the pagan idols that Muhammad threw out of the Ka’bah in the 7th century.
If the dozen or so people invited to this private art opening earlier this month felt a little uncomfortable amid the provocative imagery, that’s just what their host intended.
"You can push moral lines, you can push emotional buttons," said Jason Rhoades, the artist who held the event — a combination dinner party and interactive art exhibition that he has dubbed "Black Pussy Soiree Cabaret Macrame."
"That’s why I do what I do," he added, "because it is the supposed absolute freedom of art and what art can be."
The 40-year-old Los Angeles-based sculptor plans to hold a soiree every Thursday night at the Filipinotown studio over the next two months. (Rhoades hasn’t exhibited here in 12 years; the last work was an IKEA-inspired exhibit called "Swedish Erotica and Fiero Parts" at the Rosamund Felsen Gallery.) His guest list includes a variety of notables from the arenas of art, entertainment and beyond: painter John Baldessari, TV personality Jack Osbourne, actor Dennis Hopper and dozens more.
Some will undoubtedly walk out of the show dismissing it as kitsch — or worse. But many swear by Rhoades and his vision.
"I don’t think anyone can hold a candle to him," said Linda Norden, who last year curated the U.S. Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, one of the biggest and most influential art shows in the world. "I just think the way he orchestrates actual space and imaginary space is kind of incredible…. I love the way you get lost in it."
Getting lost in it, though, can take time. At one point last week, Rhoades and his co-host, art consultant Alex Israel, urged their guests to join in the creative process by attaching a vintage T-shirt to the macrame sculpture hanging on one wall while shouting out a favorite word for the vagina. No one said anything. A few in the room laughed nervously.
Finally, contemporary art collector Rosette Delug tied a scrap of material into the giant twisted web of cotton shirts and the neon sign saying "sweet briar." Then she shouted out in Turkish, "Om!"
Others quickly followed. Meanwhile, on a small stage, a three-person band scat-sang an Ella Fitzgerald-style rendition of the idioms being offered up. To the pulsing beat, the partygoers become increasingly bold. One guest fashioned a macrame version of underwear and put them on; another volunteered to tie her own underwear to Rhoades’ macrame sculpture.
Soon, mini tuna tacos were brought out with Cajun oyster shots, oddly shaped chocolate truffles, pigs in a blanket, salad, chocolate-covered espresso beans and strawberries, all of it under the banner "International Food Pile."
A bit later, the guests were invited to jump into a glowing white bed, fluffed with pillows. Rhoades held up a canister containing a slippery rubber imitation of female body parts, and the guests came forward to stick their hands inside. "I guess you should try everything once," Keith Boadwee, a Bay Area artist, declared before taking his turn.
Relaxed by now, the guests circled the stage and Rhoades discussed his methods. Since 1993, when he began exhibiting his work after graduating from UCLA, Rhoades has used materials from Home Depot along with reproductions of rare objects.
For his last two exhibits in Europe, "My Madinah" and "Meccatuna," he glued thousands of terry towels to the floor with a phallic glue gun.
"The wonderful thing about this entire experience is it can’t be institutionalized," said Annie Philbin, the director of the Hammer Museum of Art and one of last week’s attendees. "It’s free and it’s untethered. If you put it in an institution, I think it takes a little bit of the life out of it."
As the night wore on, more music played. The so-called Jewish Elvis, Jelvis, sang "My Blue Suede Yarmulke" and other tunes while clad in a late-era Presley costume adorned with gold Stars of David. He serenaded each woman in the studio before the guests followed Rhoades to his "Shoe-gurt" machine. There, they sampled a soy frozen yogurt substance that the artist says he invented and insisted must be eaten out of a shoe — or, in many a case, knee-high leather boots.
Then the finale. The guests returned to the stage area, and the Chapin Sisters paid tribute to Britney Spears with a plaintive version of "Toxic."
Around midnight, Rhoades bid his guests goodbye. "I’d like to thank the pagan parts in all of us," he said.