Michael Decker Adult Roman Numeral Thirty
When I declare my Love so loud and clear for a woman that she and I cannot deny it’s presence I fall fast (and flat) on my face. In the presentation Adult Roman Numeral Thirtyby young and emerging artist Michael Decker at Steve Turner Contemporary in Los Angeles, C.A., we see a blatant infatuation and unacknowledged imitation of the artist Mike Kelley. Decker’s exhibition conjures questions in the critical viewer of the fine line between appropriation and derivative artistic imitation. One cannot deny that the shadowy specter of Mike Kelley hangs high above the head of more than one artist in Southern California (and beyond) but most are more deft than to display it as brazenly as Decker does.
Upon entering the show we are greeted by a work that reads, “My policies don’t have to make sense, I’m the boss.” The object is made of particleboard and painted with the stencils a sign painter might use.
My policies don’t have to make sense, I’m the boss.
The impasse of the phrase repeats in the mind ad infinitum. Seldom are such arrogant claims made. Nothing could ring more true for an artist whose exhibition pivots on the laurels of its own self-justified narrative. Perhaps the stance of unbridled hubris would be of interest but disappointedly we find out that the Decker is not speaking from his own voice but rather talking through one of many aphorisms collected in the kitsch reliquaries of thrift stores in Bakersfield, Altadena, and Fresno where the artist was raised. We are given a presentation of form, which, appears to be outside of the artist’s imagination and inevitably falls into the realm of the artist’s casual, thrift store connoisseurship.
It is said that mimesis is one of the primary aims of the beaux-arts, which through the manipulation of forms allow a viewer to understand an artist’s subjective interpretation of reality. There is however, a marked difference between pure mimesis and appropriation. Appropriation is a circumvention of artistic production and akin more to connoisseurship and selection of form than it is to the craft of production. Appropriationist strategies have been employed since the early 20th century to bypass the subjugation of the object as subject and to exalt idea over form.
The mimetic however rests on the reproduction of the tangible and physical-world not on the employment of an idea as the subject of art.
The problem that Decker’s stance takes is further compounded by his secondhand use of Mike Kelley’s interpretation of reality, both imagined and observed.
Kelley came to prominence through his use of punk rock slogans and bad boy phrases that dealt with mass culture’s representations. His early works were lovingly painted ink works on large pieces of paper. One masterpiece of the period is entitled SHOCK, 1982-83, which is in Los Angeles in the permanent collection of The Museum of Contemporary Art. SHOCK is a triptych, which features a flank of meat gleaming under the hot ray of a heat lamp; itdeals with Kelley’s personalized/sexualized view of fast food adoration and the sacrosanct substrate of the society that produces this fast/readymade food. It is classic in its use of nonchalant lowbrow language to access a higher cultural strata.
It would be a matter altogether different if the style of Kelley had been employed or adopted in a critical fashion, however in Adult Roman Numeral Thirty it is used in the absence of the artist’s own personal voices.
We live in a conservative era that is pitted against modernity’s violent progression toward the future by the destruction of the past. The conservative cultural mode is epitomized by young artists taking a sycophantic voice; often for the lack of ideas or moral courage to hedge against their own careers—devoid of individualized ethics.
Sadly I must conclude that this is a boring exhibition not worth visiting by an overly academic and educated artist that could use a dose of his own voice instead of ridding the proverbial laurels of a greater artist. By the age of 30 most of Decker’s contemporaries have already marched ahead of their professors to establish their own unique vision. Perhaps at Adult Roman Numeral 40 the artist will have moved on to another career or made an honest try to this one. It is a hard position to take perhaps, but there are so many other artists already doing harder work and contributing to the field of art in significant ways that I would not consider it a valuable use of time to invest in Decker’s luke-warm practice. It would make better sense to get the original not the thrift store copy.
Written in Los Angeles by