Text: Alec Coiro
Images Courtesy of The Hole
Frankly, if you’re a young artist in New York City and The Hole isn’t high atop your wish list for where you want to have a show, I would say to you that the L.A. art scene is really taking off, it’s 100% legit now, and maybe it’s the right fit for you.
Currently, up at The Hole, we have a pairing of sculptures by Swedish artist Joakim Ojanen and Chicago-based artist Ryan Travis Christian.
The first thing that struck me upon viewing the show is that there’s something instantly amusing about the presentation of Ojanen’s busts. Ojanen’s sculptures are sort of art naïf ceramic busts in a colorful, fun, grotesque mood that is presented on a sleek modern platform the artist created as though they were precious diamonds or a futuristic rogue’s gallery of ovoid heads.
The busts are brilliantly engrossing, the German word spennend shprang to mind. I found myself captivated by the story behind each one, taking my time which each individual bust while binge watching the entire series. The fact that titles like “Small Bee Hat” and “Cheeky Gag Ball” also double as literal descriptions should give the reader a sense of why they are so fascinating.
Returning to my hedged “art naïf” designation, I should explain that according to press materials, Ojanen is not a technically trained sculptor or ceramicist. These bust are evidently his attempt to see his paintings and drawings of the characters realized in 3 dimensions. And, I have to say, this sort of indomitable drive to see your vision realized without regard to the limits of what you are or aren’t trained for is the very essence of innovation. Every new thing I’ve heard the origin story of always contains a version of the sentiment: “It was all new. We had no idea what we were doing or what the rules were; we were just doing it.” While it’s not clear if Ojanen has blazed a brand new path, these busts are devastatingly charming without even a hint of preciousness.
Not necessarily concerned with blazing a brand new path, Ryan Travis Christian’s drawings could easily be cells from golden-era Hollywood cartoon animations if they didn’t have titles lIke “Oh Fuck Here Comes Rex Again” (an illustration which seems to imagine Happy Feet made 60 years earlier as a horror movie) and deal with subject matter like car dealership flappy men, Soviet psychedelia, the relative gayness of the states of the union, the practice of art making, and other adventures that Steam Boat Willy never took part in.
Of course, Christian’s stylistic reference to the past should not imply that what he’s doing is not new. It’s certainly refreshingly original when put in the context of anything else I’ve seen lately.
Both artists skillfully contrast a cartoonish veneer with a serious, contemporary, often sinister message. It’s a wonderful pairing, as both artists are able to spin a gripping narrative out of static media.