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Barnsdall Column (2021) is the first thing you see upon entering Lukas Geronimas’ untitled show at Parker Gallery: a collection of smooth, salvaged cedar planks, bundled and bunched like papyrus reeds in the style of an Egyptian pillar. It was originally commissioned, pre-pandemic, for a show at the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery (LAMAG), where the bundle’s symmetrical cross-like shape echoed the gallery’s floor plan. (The works were installed at LAMAG last fall, but the public never got to see them. The gallery was unable to open due to Covid restrictions, leaving the artworks marooned inside.) Restaged in Parker Gallery’s domestic foyer, Barnsdall Column nearly grazes the ceiling, dominating the room like a fragment of ancient architecture—except the planks were found in Vernon, and the Column’s decagonal bands are made from plexiglass. Built for one context before being plopped in another, it’s a fitting opening to a show that examines how materials, environments, and cultural associations mediate the boundaries between the sacred and profane.
The four objects presented in the first room of the gallery mirror the layout of a chapel, underscored by two muslin-stretched double valances facing one another. Hanging from wooden frames in the shape of pointed arches, they cover the windows like medieval banners, tempering the sunlight peaking inside and softening the gallery’s atmosphere. In the center of the room sits Puzzlemaster (2020), a handless, footless, slightly-larger-than-human-sized figure—an amalgam of a dancing Shiva, an Egyptian pharaoh, and a Greco-Roman hero. Crafted out of foam and plaster and covered with graphite powder, it’s a dead ringer for an ancient bronze. But the whole thing weighs around 125-pounds. Its gravity is an illusion.
As a pastiche of several cultures’ gods, you might think of Puzzlemaster as an ode to universalism: that, at the end of the day, we all sing the same tune in a slightly different key. But Geronimas is more concerned with the faux bronze idol’s loaded spiritual status. Carved into Puzzlemaster’s body are various etchings—Virgin Marys, medieval pages, rabbit ears, and anthropomorphic pigs—sparking a twinge of indignation not unlike that sparked by seeing a Buddha tagged with graffiti or an old bridge collapsed under love locks. Our visceral responses to human heritage defiled cut more deeply than any denominational belief. Yet instead of deflating the sculpture’s presence, the graffiti strangely works to enhance it. No longer just an idol from an ancient civilization, Puzzlemaster slips into the rarified category of collective cultural patrimony. Generations of vandals and nonbelievers aside, the sculpture has somehow survived.
If the downstairs galleries examine the status of ritual objects within the worshipful context of a chapel, the upstairs gallery does so in the context of a white-walled encyclopedic museum. On three separate cabinet displays sit a series of ostensibly devotional sculptures crafted from wood, stone, foam, and various detritus, and bathed in blueish, grayish light from the tints Geronimas has placed on the windows. Their lyric, nymph-like names—Crinia, Spea, Hyla, and Nyctimystes (all 2022)—evoke zen gardens and household deities. (It’s deflating, then, to learn from the press release that they are adapted from the Latin titles of frog genera.) The contemplative magic fades even more when a gallery attendant opens the cabinet doors, letting you glimpse the uncatalogued trays of fasteners, packing foam, and ziplock bags of earth-colored dust that comprise the sculptures’ source material. It’s another way for Geronomias to examine the contexts in which objects develop auras and elicit sacred feelings. Yet, while the flaws on Puzzlemaster’s body ultimately worked in its favor, here, preserving an illusion of sanctity depends on hiding the raw materials from which the sausage was made.
It’s no secret that sacred objects give precision to our emotions. (According to conventional anthropological wisdom, that’s what they’ve always been for.) Nor is the idea of conditioning an audience necessarily novel to sculpture. (Think Joseph Beuys, Rebecca Horn, or Chris Burden.) But in a culture so steeped in the language of “vibrations” and “energies,” there’s something refreshing about examining the conditions by which raw materials are converted into objects that become charged with meaning, and how that meaning expands, mutates, or dissipates according to unspoken factors beyond our grasp.
Lukas Geronimas runs from January 15–February 5, 2022 at Parker Gallery (2441 Glendower Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90027).