The Road Ahead at Roberts & Tilton

The Road Ahead is a retrospective group show at Roberts & Tilton this summer in Los Angeles.  It features work from 14 artists, with many artists contributing multiple works.

This is definitely not the typical summer group show in Culver City right now – as The Road Ahead features a combination of contemporaneous work with some slightly older pieces from the late ‘70s - early ‘80s.  As such, it comingles heavy hitters of the art world, such as Betye Saar and Kehinde Wiley, with newer and more emerging artists such as John Monn and Derrick Adams. - Ellen C. Caldwell, Los Angeles Contributor

Installation view of The Road Ahead. Photo by Robert Wedemeyer. Courtesy of Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, CA.

When I saw The Road Ahead’s press release online, it first read slightly confusing and convoluted to me (as press releases sometimes do) – but that was only until I saw the show and understood the artistic interaction occurring within those gallery walls. Then it made perfect sense.

Betye Saar |
 He Who Guards the Night, 1979, Hankie collage with assemblage, 13 x 13.25 in (33.0 x 33.7 cm). Photo by Robert Wedemeyer. Courtesy of Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, CA.

The press release paints an elaborate picture about not only the theoretical interaction between the past and the present, but also between the artist and how s/he processes the past and present.  It quotes Richard Tuttle, saying “In our culture, imitation-based experience dominates reality-based experience.  I find this an awful thing. But there are artists who know from the bottom of their souls that art is about the experience of reality. The reason we have art is because you can’t get a real experience from the world.”

Within the confines of Roberts & Tilton then, we are offered the artistic incarnations or incantations of the artists’ deepest experience of reality.  Confusing at first?  Maybe.  But as I saw the artwork interact with one another, it began to make more sense.

A particularly powerful way that The Road Ahead worked for me was in the layout: specifically the way in which the artwork was physically arranged to converse, interact, and communicate with one another.

Derrick Adams | 
Head #12 (Floor Plan), 2012, Mixed media collage, 36 x 36 in (91.44 x 91.44 cm) and Derrick AdamsHead #13 (Floor Plan), 2012, Mixed media collage, 36 x 36 in (91.44 x 91.44 cm). Photo by Ellen C. Caldwell.

For example, upon entering the gallery, if you turned left, you would see Derrick Adams’ pair of Head #12 (Floor Plan) and Head #13 (Floor Plan) facing one another, as if in metaphorical conversation.  So, this is a more obvious example of an artistic conversation, but one I liked nonetheless.

Betye Saar |
 Dreams, Dreams, Come Play Your Dreams, 1981, Hankie collage with assemblage, 10 x 10.5 in (25.4 x 26.7 cm). Photo by Robert Wedemeyer. Courtesy of Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, CA.

Delving deeper, Betye Saar’s three “hankie collages” were interspersed throughout the show.  A well-known artist who gained recognition during the ‘60s and ‘70s, Saar is known for her three-dimensional collages such as her iconic The Liberation of Aunt Jemima. (See a wonderful video of Saar discussing the making of this “signature” piece here.)Something about the images from her hankies facing and interfacing with the other art in this show clicked with me.  The face of a stereotypical “mammy” figure that Saar is known for referencing, questioning, and reclaiming in protest is one of the many faces interacting in the show.

John Monn | 
RFLCT, 2012, Melted army men and epoxy resin on canvas with metal coating, 35 x 32 in (88.9 x 81.28 cm). Photo by Robert Wedemeyer. Courtesy of Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, CA.

John Monn’s RFLCT, a sculptural canvas that consists of “melted army men and epoxy resin on canvas with metal coating” drew me in numerous times.  First, its sheer shine beckoned to me.  Second, the layering of the canvas was so intricate – the figures overlap one another and quite literally melt into one another.  And third, the medium of the army men themselves were completely compelling.

John Monn | 
RFLCT – DETAIL. Photo by Ellen C. Caldwell.

I remember the magic of these plastic figurines and the world of possibility our imagination offered them as a child.  But there is obviously a deeper complexity to the nature of these toys themselves in what they teach, as each man is molded and poised to shoot and presumably kill. Later after leaving the gallery, I kept thinking about the interaction we have with these toys and in turn the conceptual interaction this piece of art had with the others in the show.

John Monn |
 PXLT, 2012, Airsoft ammunition and epoxy resin on canvas with metal coating, 20 x 20 in (50.8 x 50.8 cm). Photo by Robert Wedemeyer. Courtesy of Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, CA.

Monn explores similar themes in his other work PXLT, which is made from epoxy coated ammunition that looks lavish and rich as the gold glistens from afar, but has a deeper underlying context when you know its compositional makeup.

Kehinde Wiley
, Houdon Paul-Louis, 2011, Bronze with polished stone base, 34 x 26 x 19 in (86.4 x 66.0 x 48.3 cm), Edition of 3, (2 AP). Photo by Ellen C. Caldwell.

Central to the momentum of the show is Kehinde Wiley’s bronze bust Houdon Paul-Louis that literally sits in the center of the gallery and exhibit.  Houdon Paul-Louis’ face looks out, but not straight ahead.  His head is tilted up, with lips pursed and eyebrow raised, as if quietly acknowledging something or someone.  Wiley’s complex tilting of the scultpure’s head and the particular curious, yet fixed look on his face lends many compelling moments to the exhibit experience as a whole.

Installation View 1 of
 Kehinde Wiley, Houdon Paul-Louis and Noah Davis, Phantom Painting, 2012. Photo by Ellen C. Caldwell.

As I circled both the gallery and the bust, I viewed the art from Houdon’s position within the show, looking out to Noah Davis’ Phantom Painting, Saar’s hankies, John Monn’s three dimensional canvases, andAdams’ mixed media collages.  Seeing the show both with Houdon as an inanimate companion and from his perspective changed things for me and made me understand the multiplicity of meanings that an artistic interaction with the past and present can offer us as we look back down the road ahead.

Installation View 2 of
 Kehinde Wiley, Houdon Paul-Louis and Derrick Adams, Head #12 and Head #13. Photo by Ellen C. Caldwell.


The Road Ahead ran at Roberts & Tilton through July 28thUpcoming exhibits include Daniel Joseph Martinez, September 8-October 20; Egan Frantz, October 27-December 15; and Sebastian Black, October 27-December 15.

Ellen C. Caldwell is an LA-based art historian, editor, and writer.

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