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Like a bedazzled jean jacket, Jeffrey Gibson’s exhibition In Such Times at Roberts & Tilton has a lot goin’ on. Gibson’s six panels and two punching bag pieces employ beaded, geometric patterning reminiscent of Native American handicraft. Each work contains pithy, oblique phrases and quotes reminiscent of a Jenny Holzer who’s recently found religion. The final products are further bedecked out with a fringe of charms and jingles.
Gibson’s beaded phrases and quotes freely, and briefly, riff on spirituality, the politicized nation-state, new-age-y affirmations, and brow-furrowing aphorisms (take for example, IN SUCH TIMES CLOWNS BECOME WITNESSES, all works 2017). “Time” here refers both to the eternal (of the devil and God), and to a terrestrial kind, of political upheaval—Like a Whisper’s text reads “People are talkin’ ‘bout REVOLUTION.” Gibson references in turn both hymns (Amazing Grace) and pop music (Soul II Soul’s Back to Life)—an apt nod to both church and state. As such, his intentions can get murky. The punching bag implies many things, all of them hot—violence, rage, focused battery. Its form is resistant to destruction, durably absorbing every blow; but the titular text of LOVE IS THE DRUG locates love as the favored opiate of the post-capitalist masses, suggesting the durability of a salient cultural fiction rather than transcendence or revolution.
The “cultural hybridity” with which the press release frames the exhibition is evident in Gibson’s geometric patterning, which calls to mind his own ancestral crafts (the artist is of Choctaw and Cherokee heritage), and the modernist reappropriation (or theft) of these motifs—as in Urban Outfitters’ Navajo controversy. Hybridity is infectious—in both the exuberant and the pathological senses—in a global, over-connected economy. Gibson’s densely layered works weave together a number of thematic, incongruous elements, positioning transcendence as a durable, incorruptible solution for rising above the daily noise of cultural clash. Works like AMAZING GRACE and DEARLY BELOVED…AND DID YOU GET WHAT YOU WANTED FROM THIS LIFE? reflect on a life seemingly about to be left in the dust.
Jeffrey Gibson: In Such Times runs September 9–October 21, 2017 at Roberts & Tilton (5801 Washington Blvd., Culver City, CA 90232)