Approaching the new installation at David Zwirner, "Black Pussy" appears as the final work by Jason Rhoades, who died in 2006 at 41. The vestige of a series of soirées planned and executed by Rhoades, the mammoth installation is built around an empty stage. Never one to shy away from hot buttons issues, Rhoades carried out the "Black Pussy Soirée Cabaret Macramé" evenings with carefully composed guest lists and planted attendees. The guests were required to wear white and included art world luminaries as well as celebrities and local people.
Over the six-month period they were held, these ten orchestrated events were extensively documented through photos and sound. The publication of a coffee table photo book of the soirées was part of the series' original concept.
"Black Pussy" was the third in the series of Rhoades investigations into the history of Islam. Here, the 360 neon signs mimic the role of pagan idols expelled from Mecca. Mixing the sacred with the profane, a recurrent theme, Rhoades exposes cultural clashes and multiple points of view.
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Indeed, the overall look is that of a party book, with people mingling, eating, and laughing, performers on and off stage singing and playing along. The book gives some idea of the mood of the soirées, and who attended. Guests were expected to participate and add to the evolving piece. Some people look engaged, others bored or withdrawn. Impersonators were hired for the soirées. As well, photo documentation of the series was added to each successive evening.
This installation is chaotic and dense with rolling metal carts full of objects and the neon signs. An exact replica of Rhoades' studio space, it includes a Green Room with couch and CDs as well as everyday detritus including socks, a bed, and a small kitchen with implements.
"Black Pussy" is impossible to absorb, the ultraviolet and pink light casting a dim otherworldly glow. Many of the objects are Middle Eastern - hookah pipes, camel stools, phallic shaped glass vases. Other ethnicities are also represented, with Chinese scholar stones as well as knock-offs, Native American dreamcatchers, and Venetian glass fruit. The result is like a surreal warehouse.
Rhoades always pushed boundaries and broke taboos. By throwing people into the mix in "Black Pussy," he took on the ultimate challenge of creating and composing through the medium of real life. But at David Zwirner, one can't help but feel a bit left out of this sculpture, which was so alive at the soirées but now sits inert. Though collective and collaborative in spirit, the installation today seems removed and distant from the real breaking down of barriers that one feels Rhoades was ultimately interested in.