When done well, the mash-up casts a critical eye on its constituent elements by way of smart juxtapositions, while simultaneously generating its own hybrid aesthetic. In “GOODGOD,” his fourth solo show at Cherry and Martin, L.A.-based artist Nathan Mabry did just that, further developing his lexicon of references to modernist sculpture, Americana and indigenous cultures (all works 2014).
Greeting visitors in the first room of the small gallery was Weeping Figure II (Déjà Vu-vu), an 80-inch-high bronze replicating Alberto Giacometti’s abstracted female figure Spoon Woman (1926-27). In Mabry’s version, however, a noisy water pump hidden in the pedestal transforms the work into a dribbling fountain. The original sculpture was itself a medley of references, tapping into its era’s fascination with tribal cultures. It combines the form of ceremonial fertility spoons made by the African Dan people with a sense of abstraction inherited from Brancusi. In Weeping Figure II, the water pump’s racket and the almost imperceptible trickle of water are at odds with the venerated figure, turning high art into a decorative water feature.
Nearby was “Smoke Signal,” a series of five photographs depicting incense smoke floating over blurry backgrounds of rugs and other textiles, a gem resting on each photograph’s white frame. In the same gallery were Creator (Helmet I) and Creator (Helmet II), which consisted of neon-colored vinyl welding screens encasing steel casts of welding masks. These seemed to invoke only Mabry’s material practice as a sculptor and lacked the agile and clever combinations that made the show’s other works so powerful.
Dominating the second room, Heavy Handed (Flesh and Blood) is a large rusted Corten steel sculpture with dramatic angles and large planes, reminiscent of Tony Smith’s or Richard Serra’s Minimalist behemoths. Grandeur and monumentality devolved into pure folly, however, once one registered that the sculpture depicts two fists, the index finger of one inserted into the other in the crude gesture for intercourse. With such satire, Mabry places himself into the lineage of macho modernist sculptors while simultaneously poking fun at their self-seriousness.
A suite of six striking, macabre vertical assemblages concluded the exhibition. Patinaed bronze casts of prehistoric animal skulls topped signposts that had been painted matte black and upturned. Each of the six sculptures is titled The Bathers, in a nod to Cézanne’s iconic paintings (the well-known version at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art features six nudes), along with a parenthetical reference to a planet in the solar system. Resembling North American totem poles, the sculptures recall street signs of southwestern highways, and the dinosaur skulls suggested a sudden extinction. Are these sculptures meant to serve as apocalyptic “signs”? Are the inverted posts a symbol of distress, as in an upside-down American flag? Or is Mabry simply proving himself to be a deft synthesizer of unexpected elements? Mabry’s humor again prevailed before these questions could be fully pondered, as one noticed a last visual non sequitur: a black metal cast of a banana, perched on each of the signposts.