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Indepth Arts News:

"Robert Therrien"
2000-02-20 until 2000-05-07
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Los Angeles, CA, USA United States of America

At the age of 52, Robert Therrien is one of the most highly respected artists working in Southern California. Known predominantly as a sculptor, over the last twenty-five years he has produced a unique body of work that transforms elements from popular culture and everyday life into forms that have the timeless clarity of myths or folk tales. Working with familiar images embedded deep in American culture such as snowmen, black clouds, and storks carrying bundles, he creates two- and three-dimensional works that both exploit and transcend their commonplace associations.

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art – LACMA – presents the exhibition Robert Therrien from February 20 through May 7, 2000. Robert Therrien features six major sculptures, most done within the last five years. Among the newer motifs included in the exhibition are a spiral of fifteen beds, a stack of giant plates and bowls, and three 15-foot fake beards that hang on their stands from armatures that would encircle a monumental pair of ears. A further selection of two- and three-dimensional pieces in a variety of media illuminates the artist’s unique method of developing and recycling imagery.

Robert Therrien is one of the most accomplished and most enigmatic of California’s artists, said Dr. Andrea Rich, LACMA president and director. This exhibition of Therrien’s art complements a series of recent shows organized by LACMA featuring the work of established figures in the Los Angeles art world such as Mike Kelley, Lari Pittman, and Eleanor Antin. I am proud of the scholarship and talent of LACMA’s curatorial staff in organizing these types of original, insightful exhibitions. They underscore LACMA’s long-term and deep-roted commitment to Southern California art.

Walking into a fully realized installation by Therrien is like entering a self-contained universe in which the air itself seems to be activated, said Lynn Zelevansky, curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at LACMA and the organizing curator of the exhibition. He is a master of form and technique whose work combines visual pleasure and conceptual content, corporeality and spirituality, rationality and tenderness of feeling, the culture of the past and the present. He accepts and works with contradiction and paradox, taking forms that are metaphorically and emotionally laden to the place where they become symbols and are not so clearly emotional anymore.

Robert Therrien is only the third major museum exhibition of the artist’s work, and occurs at what may prove to be a crucial moment in his career. It focuses on work made over the last decade, chronicling a change in Therrien’s art that began around 1991: Since then, his sculpture has become larger, more emphatically three dimensional, and in many cases more clearly representational. This change was precipitated by what the artist sees as a maturing of his process, a new approach that allows him to work through an idea over a more extended period. Intrinsic to his shift was an involvement with photography. After abandoning the medium in school, at the beginning of the nineties Therrien began again to take black-and-white Polaroid snapshots of his works. These provide him with a valuable distance from his sculptures as they are evolving, allowing him to see them with fresh eyes. The pictures also help him to understand an object in space as a series of flat shapes, which he finds useful, and they frequently indicate where additional work should be done. It is perhaps due to photography’s mimetic qualities, that much of Therrien’s current work is the most clearly representational that he has produced.

Therrien’s sculptures often appear to become one with the spaces they occupy. It is for this reason that, when possible, Therrien actively participates in the design of his exhibitions. The placement of a work in an environment close to it in tonality or color can undermine the sense of its existence as a discrete object, emphasizing its pictorial and narrative qualities. Therrien’s work manifests a fascination with the manner in which shapes can mutate, and abstract elements can evoke recognizable images. This dominance of the visual lightens the physical impact of even huge sculptures. If, conventionally, sculpture is thought to be literal – an object in space, as opposed to painting, which tends to be illusionistic and so metaphorical – in Therrien’s hands it is less so.

Therrien’s driving force is conceptual as well as visual. His art does not make obvious reference to appropriated imagery in the signature postmodern manner. On the contrary, as he reworks a motif over time, he refines it into a kind of symbol that seems to represent a whole class of things. His sources, deriving from past art, popular culture, or everyday life, are obscured to the point that Therrien himself frequently has difficulty identifying them. Even in the earliest stages of a work’s development, references already begin to meld or lose their specificity. This is in part because Therrien wants his artwork to have multiple meanings and levels. In choosing subject matter he looks for open-ended forms that have many associations. This is why all of the works in the exhibition bear the description, no title. This is Therrien’s usual mode of identification, or lack thereof, representing an emphatic rejection of any information that could limit the meaning of a work.

Catalogue: This retrospective will be accompanied by a fully illustrated 149-page catalogue by Lynn Zelevansky that features an essay by Thomas Frick and a coda by Norman Bryson.

Credit Line: This exhibition was organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. It was made possible in part by grants from the Broad Art Foundation, Tony and Gail Ganz, the Lannan Foundation and the Pasadena Art Alliance.

Exhibition Curator: Robert Therrien was organized by Lynn Zelevansky, curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at LACMA.


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