New York Rodney McMillian has a talent for setting up uncanny relationships among undistinguished objects. Many of the 18 works shown in this exhibition, titled “Prospect Ave.,” repurpose furnishings from McMillian’s former home on Prospect Avenue in Los Angeles. Despite their domestic roots, however, they do not lend comfort. In fact, quite the opposite: McMillian’s videos, installations, paintings and sculptures trigger an overall sense of unease.
Upon entering the gallery, the visitor passed through a state of kemmering in the Council-era of Corrosion (2012), a tunnel of stitched black vinyl that covered floor, walls and ceiling, setting off the interior of the gallery as a kind of alternate world. The title of the piece alludes to a science-fiction novel by Ursula K. Le Guin. In the story, set far in the future, “kemmering” refers to a phase of sexuality in an androgynous alien race during which gender is decided and a mate is sought. Once the phase has passed, these beings return to a state of androgyny.
The idea of mate-finding carried into the rest of the exhibition, which was conceived around a dyadic prin- ciple. Each of the works on view, apart from one—a couch bisected by a strip of poured concrete, suggesting, perhaps, an androgynous state—had a companion piece. On the wall, for instance, hung two large works (both 2012) that consist of carpeting ripped up from McMillian’s former home, the rectilinear shapes mirroring the floor plans of the rooms the material once adorned. In the most sexually suggestive piece, an untitled sculpture from 2009, a stiff cardboard column covered in black latex paint penetrates an off-white armchair. The work’s counterpart was found in an oil painting titled 25¢ (2012), which depicts a white quarter, face up, against an inky expanse. In the painting, the circular form of the tube is flattened and its color reversed from black to white, while the armchair’s cream-hued seat becomes a rectangle of darkness.
Taking the dual quality further, the exhibition itself was split into two rooms, the second of which the viewer entered by way of a second tunnel—this one made of painted canvases. In the latter room, two videos played on monitors resting on the floor. One video features the shoed feet of someone dancing on the same brown carpeting that hung in the first room. The other is a close-up on the artist as he sings along, rather flatly, to Gloria Gaynor’s disco anthem “I Will Survive.” His expression is borderline melancholic, and the song— about lovers parting—suggests the completion of a thematic cycle that had begun with the notion of mate seeking.
Again, however, the works are hardly sentimental. The titles further contribute to the sense of intellectual distance. One of the carpet works, for instance, is titled Carpet Painting (Bedroom and TV Room), which evokes personal spaces normally associated with leisure and entertainment but also connects the object to the rarified realm of painting. At the same time, while the composition has the visual flatness and hard-edged lines of certain modernist styles, it strips away the refinement associated with such work. In McMillian’s strange world, nothing operates on a single plane: objects shift contexts and slide between numerous dimensions.
Photo: View of Rodney McMillian’s exhibition “Prospect Ave.,” 2012; at Maccarone.