Capital ideas

Jewelers exhibit contemplates ‘sex appeal’ of the political moment

Roberts’ “The Master’s Tools (Decay Goes Both Ways).”

In many ways, Las Vegas is a shockingly accurate barometer of America in the extreme. Our country’s successes, foibles and follies come in concentrated form, a quick hit and slow bleed. As it is difficult to recall America without this presidential election in play, it seems fitting that an exhibition arise that directly considers this political time in our geographic place. Dust Gallery’s Capital Jewelers fits the bill.

As curator, Artforum writer and California College of the Arts instructor Glen Helfand “relished the opportunity to tap into dialogs around the presidential election and to make politics have a degree of sex appeal.” Helfand is also in tune with the extreme contrasts of this city, where “excess is magnified along with pathos,” and dazzling glitz coexists with extreme raw poverty. Myth-building is inherent to Vegas and America, now more than ever. Helfand recognizes the whiff of desperation and the spit-shine of nostalgia in our declining empire.

Dominating the entrance to the gallery is Lacey Jane Roberts’ shimmering and attractive “The Master’s Tools (Decay Goes Both Ways).” The piece is a massive fence covered in knitted metallic yarn fabricated by the artist using an old Barbie hand-crank knitter. Of the lineage of feminist work that directly engages craft and handiwork as a means of critique, it features questions of manufacture, control and seduction playing out across the menacing links. Although made of yarn, it appears to be covered in harsh Brillo pads; lacy shadows looming behind the structure enhance the overall sinister undercurrent. Anyone fortunate to have seen LA MOCA’s Wack! Art and the Feminist Revolution last year will appreciate this artist as a part of the next wave. Her work is tactile, taut and threatening, and one cannot help but think of self-made prisons.

The Details

Capital Jewelers
Four stars
Through November 23
Dust Gallery, 900 Las Vegas Blvd. S., Suite 120B, 880-3878

Luke Butler’s collages from the series Leader of Men dominate the exhibition. In the series, vintage gay porn meets Life magazine in darkly funny contemplations of Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and JFK. The presidents’ heads are grafted onto Herculean bodies, shiny and erect, as they proudly dominate dramatic mountains and crashing oceans. The landscapes call to mind fascist articulations of the natural sublime, and there is an unmistakable thread of propaganda to the work. “Bald Mountain” and “Citizen” are particularly majestic in their depictions of Ford, where the former president emerges as if a Roman god. Sex is part and parcel to power, and myth collides with necessity in the stories we spin around our heads of state.

Local sculptor Curtis Fairman’s work is always solid and seductive. The artist’s familiar store-bought glassware configurations acquire new potency in this context. The political implications of their manufactured sources rise in significance equal to that of the rococo surface appeal. Global market, manufacturing and the aphrodisiac of a desired object: a richer experience of this work alongside attendant explorations was a nice surprise.

Jill Magid’s “Glam Cam (Golden I)” and “Glam Cam (Golden II)” most directly articulate the confluence of power and allure that reside at the heart of the exhibition. Surveillance cameras that have been essentially “bedazzled” are placed at opposing positions high on the gallery wall. A once intentionally inconspicuous object is now on fabulous display; the import of what is being observed is superseded by attention to what (and whom?) is observing. An accompanying poster asks, “Why be a silent witness? When you can be a glamorous ornament?”

A part of the “System Azure” project, in which the artist started a company that offered to attach ornamentation to security cameras, the work is particularly resonant here in the land of surveillance. How much of our day is observed by third parties as we move through gaming areas on the way to pay for gas or purchase groceries? The artist asks us to look at the camera itself. Held within are possible answers to the question of who is watching us and why: perhaps a far more accurate portrait of ourselves than any video footage could ever be.

Capital Jewelers: seduction and power, myth and reality. How does one curate a show that is, in effect, about Las Vegas for a Las Vegas audience? Walking through the gallery, questions of how we (Las Vegans) are perceived by the rest of the world are unavoidable. These questions quickly shift from a “we” of Las Vegas to a “we” of America, reaching the ultimate query: How do we, Americans, perceive ourselves? What myths do we cling to as coping mechanisms? How do we “bedazzle” our reality to make it more palatable?

Dust Gallery’s Capital Jewelers could very well be the best place in town to contemplate the current history-making American moment.


Danielle Kelly

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